Cowboy SEAL Homecoming (Navy SEAL Cowboys #1)
Cowboy SEAL Homecoming
Navy Seal Cowboys #1
January 2nd, 2018
Three former Navy SEALs
Injured in the line of duty
Desperate for a new beginning…
Searching for a place to call their own.
Alex Maguire never thought he’d go home again. The perfect soldier, the perfect leader, he’s spent his whole life running away from Blue Valley, Montana—but when a tragic accident bounces him and two of his men out of the SEALs, there’s nowhere left to turn but the ranch he used to call his own…and the confusing, innocently beguiling woman who now lives there.
Becca Denton’s like nothing he could have imagined. She’s far too tempting for her own good, but when she offers to help turn the ranch into a haven for injured veterans, he can’t exactly say no. He’ll just need to keep his distance. But something in her big green eyes makes Alex want to set aside the mantle of the perfect soldier and discover the man he could have been…safe and whole within the shelter of her arms.
The Prodigal SEAL has come home.
“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” Jack said.
Alex Maguire smiled at his friend’s utter disgust. The big Montana sky, famous for its size and unending vastness, stretched out blue and bright. Mountains lined the distance, and if he squinted, he could almost forget he was in the parking lot of the Bozeman airport.
It was a strange thing to be back in Montana and know it was probably for good, even though in the back of his mind, he’d known he couldn’t be a Navy SEAL forever. There’d been the vague idea that, when he was old, he’d probably make it back to Blue Valley and the ranch he’d grown up on.
He hadn’t expected that to happen at the age of thirty-four, and he certainly hadn’t expected…well, any of what lay before him.
“So, what does this woman look like?” Gabe asked, scanning the parking lot.
Truth be told, Alex had only fuzzy recollections of his stepsister, Becca. His visits to Blue Valley had been quick and infrequent since his father’s second marriage.
Alex hadn’t been conscious of how purposeful that had been until news of his father’s sudden death had reached him. He’d been in the rehabilitation center, recovering from his injuries. It had been there where he’d had to come to terms with the fact that he’d avoided home over the years, never quite growing comfortable with the idea of someone taking his mother’s place. Never wanting to witness it.
That meant that, including his father’s funeral, he’d only met Becca a handful of times. She was almost ten years younger than him, so each time he saw her, she looked completely different. He had no idea what kind of changes she could have gone through since the last time he’d been home.
Still, he was the leader of this trio of men come to Blue Valley to build something for soldiers like them—soldiers who’d lost their purpose long before they were ready to do so. He couldn’t let them think he was leading them into this blind.
Uncomfortable with that line of thinking, Alex scanned the parking lot again. “Short. Brown hair. Woman.”
“How very descriptive of you,” Gabe returned dryly.
“I told you I don’t know her that well.”
“But you trust her enough to do this?” Jack demanded. Though he sounded surly, Alex much preferred Jack surly to quiet and moody. The youngest of them—and the one who’d suffered the most—he’d had the longest recovery and seemed to be the worst for the wear.
This would fix it though. Alex was sure of it.
“My dad trusted her with half his ranch. He wouldn’t do that for just anybody.” Which was as true as it could possibly be. Though Becca and her mother had lived on the ranch for much of the time Alex had been away, Alex had been shocked to find his dad had left half the place to Becca, and not all of it to him.
Alex glanced at the two men who had become first his brothers in combat, then his friends, then his fellow wounded veterans. They’d had their plans and dreams ripped away from them in the same instant. Over and over in the past year, Alex had vowed to himself to fix this. To give them all some hope again.
He could tell, standing in front of this vast landscape, Gabe and Jack had their doubts, but Alex would make sure no matter what it took, they would find something new to sustain them here.
Alex looked to where Gabe was gesturing. A small brunette was walking toward them. She had her hands shoved into her jeans pockets and a baseball cap low on her head, covering most of her face. The height and build was about right, he thought, but he couldn’t see her face to be certain. Then again, he wasn’t certain he would recognize her face if he could see it.
But she was walking straight for them, and that was proof enough. This was the woman he was going to share his ranch with—his stepsister. Technically. Or she had been when his father had been alive. Whatever the case, she was a part of this whole puzzle, and he had to deal with it. Accept it. Find a way to make a partnership work.
Alex liked having goals like that. The purpose. So as she approached, he did his best to smile welcomingly.
“You never mentioned she was hot,” Gabe said with a mischievous grin.
Alex gave him a hard elbow to the ribs that had Gabe sucking in a breath. “You’ll be respectful.” He shifted on his feet as she looked both ways before crossing the road between the airport exit and the parking lot. “Besides, you can’t see her face,” Alex muttered.
“Her face wasn’t what I was looking at.”
Alex knew it was good-natured, but he also knew this was a damn perilous partnership. “You’re an ass to her, you answer to me.”
Gabe offered a mock salute and Alex considered elbowing him again, but the woman was watching. When she got close enough to speak, she pushed the hat up on her forehead.
The first thought he had—one he wanted to erase immediately—was that Gabe was right. She was hot.
And she was his stepsister or whatever, so that was completely inappropriate. Besides that, she was his partner now. If he hadn’t had time for women in the past few years, he certainly didn’t have time for one now.
“Hi, Alex,” she greeted. Her voice was soft, maybe a little…intimidated. He was used to reading people to gauge a situation, but he couldn’t read Becca. Not quite nervous, definitely not confident, but none of the words he had in his arsenal adequately labeled her demeanor.
She smiled, something small and definitely timid. Fleeting. “Welcome home,” she offered with a nod.
The word hit hard. Home. He’d never dreamed of coming home to a ranch his father wasn’t running.
“Thanks, Becca. Allow me to introduce my colleagues. Gabe Cortez. Jack Armstrong. Guys, this is…” Alex realized too late he didn’t remember her last name. Unless she’d taken Dad’s which would have been… weird. Very weird.
“Denton. Becca Denton.” She held out a hand and shook both Gabe’s and Jack’s outstretched ones. “It’s good to have you all here. I’m sure this will be a really interesting experience for all of us.”
Alex didn’t miss how forced the words sounded, but he supposed a young woman inviting three former military men into her home wouldn’t be easy. Even if the home was technically his.
He really had to stop thinking that way. Their home. Their ranch. Dad had left it to both of them. That was the reality, and Alex had accepted it. Just like he’d accepted his injuries and not being a SEAL anymore. He was an expert at accepting things.
“Let’s get you guys to the ranch. It’s a bit of a drive. Do you have any bags?”
All three of them pointed to the bags at their feet—small but all they had. If Becca was at all surprised by that, she didn’t show it.
“All right. Follow me then.”
They shouldered their duffel bags and followed her to the parking lot. If she noticed all three of them limped to varying degrees, she didn’t comment on that either.
It was a good start, all in all. A very good start.
Becca thought she was doing a pretty good job of not appearing nervous even though that was exactly what jangled through her like an electrical shock. She’d been nervous about this for she didn’t know how long. Probably from the very moment Alex had called her up, out of the blue, and said he was coming home.
This man she’d exchanged a handful of words with in the entire time her mother had been married to his father. After a year of letting her run the ranch as she saw fit, he’d decided he was coming home.
Coming home at the exact time Mom had finally decided to move off the ranch. Coming home at the time she’d finally scraped out some independence and confidence in herself. Now three big, muscled military men were moving into her house—at least until they could get the bunkhouse hospitable.
She drove, focusing on the road and her breathing and trying to corral her thoughts into a sensible path. She had some issues with Alex that were neither fair nor at all his fault, and she’d hoped to never have to work through them.
She should have known life didn’t work that way.
It wasn’t fair to think of Alex as an enemy or as an outsider. Though she’d only met him a few times, she knew how much Burt had loved him. Burt would be overjoyed his son was coming home to build a life.
Even knowing that, telling herself that, she couldn’t tap into any of that joy. She wasn’t happy at all. She felt invaded. She couldn’t help but wish Burt had left her the entire ranch.
Not fair, Becca. That is not fair.
She blew out a breath which sounded exceptionally loud in the cab of her truck. The three men were not chatting, not fidgeting. They were silent walls of presence.
She drove down Main Street, which cut through the valley the town had been named for. The town itself was surrounded by ranches of varying sizes, successes, and products. The Maguire ranch was situated on the north side of town and dealt primarily with cattle. Quite successfully too.
No matter how many times she drove past the northern limits of Blue Valley and up the rough, curving road toward the Maguire ranch, she always remembered the first day she’d seen it. Her mom had dated Burt for a long time before she’d allowed him to meet Becca, or maybe it was vice versa. Back then, Becca had always assumed it was for the same reason Mom kept everything from her: to protect her fragile health.
It was only later she’d learned her mother hadn’t wanted Becca under the influence of Burt’s teenage son.
She flicked a glance at Alex.
He was exactly as she remembered him. Tall and broad and serious. He had one of those faces that looked like it was carved from granite, all intense cheekbones and strong jaw. There was a sharpness to him she’d always found fascinating and scary at the same time.
Truth be told, everything about Alex had always been a little fascinating and a little scary. He was Burt’s biological son, so she’d always felt a kind of competition between him and herself, though she knew Alex felt no such thing. He was…
Well, he was. He was attractive. Strong and determined. Tall and solid. And his arms…
Where were her thoughts going? This was ridiculous. He was technically her stepbrother and she’d always felt weird thinking he was hot. But there he was, being all hot.
Stop thinking about him being hot. All three of them could have been Captain America and it wouldn’t have mattered. They were going to be partners in this business endeavor she was totally, one hundred percent committed to above all else.
She’d wanted to start a therapeutic horsemanship arm of the ranch long before Burt had suffered his stroke. She’d originally planned on focusing on kids going through illnesses, but after Alex’s injuries, she hadn’t been able to get him out of her head. It was better than wallowing in her grief over Burt. So she’d started thinking of her dreams in a different light.
When Alex had called to talk about taking his half of the ranch, she’d had an idea ready for him. He’d jumped on it with an enthusiasm that had surprised her.
Now, they were here. On the Maguire ranch, barely knowing each other, ready to start a business together. A nonprofit. It filled her with so much joy and hope and bone-numbing fear.
“Well, here it is—your new home. Well, your old home. Home. It’s…home.” She pushed the truck into park and hopped out. She knew she sounded like a bumbling idiot, and she didn’t plan on seeing how they reacted to it.
Ranger and Star came running from the porch, yipping and barking in happy welcome.
“Stop. Stay.” The dogs wiggled into a sitting position, barely containing their excitement over new people. They wagged their tails and panted happily at the three men who assembled next to her.
Becca took a step next to the dogs, resting her hands on their silky heads. She let out a steadying breath.
“Where’s Clark?” Alex asked.
It was amazing the way waves of grief could hit out of the blue. Burt’s dog dying so close to Burt had intertwined the two deaths in her heart. “I’m so sorry,” she croaked. “I guess…no one told you. A few days after the funeral, Clark passed too.”
If Alex had a reaction to the information, he didn’t show it. Not in his face, not in his dark eyes. He was completely and utterly blank.
But maybe that was a reaction in and of itself.
“We have Star and Ranger here,” she offered, pointing to each dog in turn. “We have a lot of random animals around these days. I should show you around the house. I mean, I know you know the house. But I have a room, and you have… Well, I didn’t know what room you would want and—”
She blinked up at him, trying to get a handle on her fraying nerves. This was all so weird, and she was alone. She’d convinced her mom she could handle this, so she had to. Didn’t make it particularly easy. “Yeah?”
“You don’t have to fuss.”
“Right. Right. I just… You… I can just get out of your way, and you can explore and do whatever you want, and I’ll just go to the stable. I have chores and horses and…” They were looking at her like she was insane, and she probably sounded like it, babbling nonsense. But she didn’t know what to do when they were all staring at her. Alex knew stuff about the ranch, but she didn’t know what her role was, what he expected.
She backed away and eventually turned and tried not to run for the stable, but her pace was quite fast.
Ranger followed her, but Star stayed behind with the guys. Which was fine. Good. Great. This was all half Alex’s. Why wouldn’t he get half the dogs too?
Becca paced the middle pathway of the stables trying to get a handle on her breathing. There were no pressing chores, but on a ranch with cattle and horses, there was always something to do.
She’d wanted to send Hick to pick up Alex and the other men instead of going herself, but this was all part of being an adult. Proving to her mother she could handle real life. Proving it to herself. She could handle her business, handle having partners she shared a property with. She could handle being a woman.
She wasn’t the sickly little girl anymore who needed all the protection in the world.
Becca jumped and whirled to find Alex and only Alex in the stable doorway. “Is everything okay?” he asked.
“It’s great,” she said with far too much false enthusiasm. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“You’re acting…a little off.”
She felt defeated. Not like the strong, capable woman she was supposed to be. “Well, that’s something you should settle in and get used to.”
His mouth curved—not a smile exactly, but something soft. “This is going to be awkward at first.”
She wanted to say no shit, Sherlock, but she was trying very hard not to be any more off-putting.
“We’ll work through it. We have a common goal.”
Becca nodded, but she didn’t say anything. They did have a common goal, but that didn’t mean things were going to get any less awkward or any less hard.
That was a lesson she’d learned a long time ago.