Mateo Lopez, honorably discharged from the Marine Corps on medical leave, is struggling to rebuild his life. The spinal cord injury that left him feeling like a broken man resulted in his inability to ride the horses he loves and works with on Round Top Ranch.
The new horse trainer at the ranch, however, has decided that this isn’t acceptable. Claire Windsor, a spirited, London-born spitfire of a woman, has come to begin a new program to turn the horses into therapy animals. She turns Mateo’s world upside-down, and try as he might to avoid her, she keeps inserting herself into his life. As their plans for the ranch clash, so too do their hearts…making all things fair in love and war.
Clare is excited to start training therapy horses at Round Top Ranch. However the reception she receives at the barn is not what she anticipated.
Mateo had finished up what he could and was heading to his place to take his pain meds. Before he reached his truck he ran into the new arrival. As he realizes her purpose he is not pleased.
Tanner sort of soothes things over with Mateo, but essentially tells him to work with her. They need her expertise with training the horses to be therapy horses.
Now while there is some animosity between the two, there is also a truce.
A favorite scene is Mateo’s first cup of tea after a harrowing episode of pain while they were in town.
Trusting her had been the easier decision. Not when his trying to drive while in the midst of a spasm would end with them in a wreck. Rubbing the back of his neck, he leaned against the counter.
“Are you sure I can’t convince you to go upstairs and sleep? I may be overstepping, but I don’t think you should drive yet. Your pupils are still a little dilated. While we’re on the ranch, you could still run off the gravel road.” No judgment showed in her expression, nor reflected in her tone. What struck him as so prim and proper before seemed to resonate with something deeper.
She was something else. “I’m not putting you out of your bed,” He protested.
“I’m not using it currently. I’ve been sitting here reading and enjoying my tea.” She’d freed her hair from the ponytail and it had fallen in a long gleaming mass. The temptation to stroke his fingers through the golden strands to see if they were as silky as they appeared pulsed through him.
It took a moment for her words to penetrate as he studied her little table set before glancing at her again. “Why are you still awake?,” he asked her. “It’s…” He looked at his watch. 3 a.m. It had been afternoon. “I slept twelve hours.”
“I know, you were in a lot of pain.” No matter how sympathetic and understanding her manner, he’d let her down—and then he’d become less than useless, a lump on her sofa. His apology died unspoken when she rubbed his arm. “If you’re going to be up, I can make you a sandwich. Jules stocked my fridge.”
“You don’t have to do that.” He withdrew, not because he didn’t like her touch, but because the sensation of her rubbing his arm was too pleasant. It provoked thoughts he shouldn’t be having, particularly when she was all soft and gorgeous. Thoughts he couldn’t act on.
“Go sit down,” she ordered, and oddly enough, he obeyed it. At least her kitchen chairs were wider than the ones in the tea shop, and cushioned. Lowering himself slowly, he sat. The drugs had done their work. The radiating lashes of agony abated to an aching soreness. A glass of water appeared in front of him, then Claire went across the room to pour boiling water from the kettle on the stove into the teapot.
Fuck. Discipline kept him from cursing aloud. He’d slipped a couple of times since coming home. He’d been a lot freer with his language when deployed. Neither Maria nor Ramon tolerated the language so he’d rehabilitated.
“I’m heating up one of the shepherd’s pie that was in the fridge.” Claire’s voice soothed him, and gave his wandering mind something to latch onto. That was the problem with pills and why he didn’t want to take them. They screwed him up and he’d seen too many guys struggling with addiction to spend any time down the rabbit hole.
“Shepherd’s pie?” Another weak attempt at conversation, but if she were going to make an effort, he needed to try and repay her kindness.
“Apparently your mum wanted me to feel at home, so she prepared several familiar meals and left them in the freezer for me.” Claire smiled. “I didn’t realize how many until tonight. It’s such a lovely gesture.”
“Mama’s really good at taking care of folks, especially if we let her.” A long drink of the water helped wet his throat, but cottonmouth feeling hadn’t gone away fully. Claire refilled her teacup, then added some to a second cup he hadn’t noticed immediately.
“I will be certain to thank her tomorrow—later today. Do you prefer sugar and milk? I know there’s honey but I’m not sure about lemon.” She hadn’t taken a seat yet, but she set the teapot on the table and reclaimed the kettle and returned it to the warmer.
“However you do should be fine.” He wasn’t a tea drinker, so he had no idea how he’d like it.
Claire added two lumps of sugar to each cup, then a dash of milk. She stirred them both before nudging his closer to him. Reclaiming her spot on the window seat, she lifted her tea for a sip.
What the hell, couldn’t hurt to try it. The cup felt a hair too dainty in his large hands, but he managed to lift it without spilling a drop. His first sip tasted strange, but not bad. Claire watched him over the rim of her own cup as she took a sip.
“Not my first choice,” he said, then took another sip. The cinnamon left a faint burn against his tongue, but the orange afterward added to the experience.
“Tea makes everything better,” she assured him with beatific smile.
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“You don’t have to,” she chuckled, and crossed one leg over the other. “Do you feel better?”
Inexplicably, he did. “Yes.”
“Which proves my argument, tea makes everything better.”
Conceding the point, he nodded. Still a little fragmented, he focused on sipping the tea and on Claire herself. “Learn something new everyday.” With every drink, he found himself liking it more. “You didn’t tell me why you’re sitting in your kitchen at three in the morning.”
“You remember when you knocked on my door yesterday morning?”
It still felt like the same day, but he nodded. No way he’d forget how deliciously disheveled she’d been. “You were sleeping in and I woke you up.”
“Jet lag is not kind, and my body thinks I’m still on Stafford time. It’s late morning at home and I was used to being up by five each day, which is 10 p.m. here.”
“That’s the suck. I had the same problem after deployments—on both sides of the coin.”
“Any tips for overcoming it?”
He’d finished his cup and she lifted the teapot in offering. “Yes please,” he said and slid his cup over. After she refilled it, he added the sugar and milk. He’d paid attention to what she’d done earlier. “Sorry, wish I had better tips than ‘Stay up until you’re at the new time you want to sleep and crash then’. One good part about the Marines, if I needed to sleep, I trained myself to go right to sleep. Didn’t matter if I’d been on a plane all day or walking miles.”
Heather Long. Long-Heather AsYouWereCowboy ARC (Kindle Locations 1095-1142). CBS Corporation. Kindle Edition.
I absolutely loved the prim and proper Claire. She’s smart and feisty and more than capable of holding her own against Mateo.
Mateo has much to overcome and he fights almost every step of the way.
The relationship is a slow build-up that I found very satisfying.
The book held some nostalgia for me, and I loved the British insight to being in Texas. I laughed, yelled and cried too.
This mix of cowboy and former military is a definite win! I can’t wait to see what the next book will hold for us.
5 Contented Purrs for Heather!
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USA Today bestselling author, Heather Long, likes long walks in the park, science fiction, superheroes, Marines, and men who aren’t douche bags. Her books are filled with heroes and heroines tangled in romance as hot as Texas in the summertime.
From paranormal historical westerns to contemporary military romance, Heather might switch genres, but one thing is true in all of her stories–her characters drive the books.
When she’s not wrangling her menagerie of animals, she devotes her time to family and friends she considers family. She believes if you like your heroes so real you could lick the grit off their chest, and your heroines so likable, you’re sure you’ve been friends with women just like them, you’ll enjoy her worlds as much as she does.