Return to cowboy country in Fever, Texas, where the heat isn’t the only thing causing a fever!
See if you can find the heirloom wedding band!
Find out more here: http://www.angelfire.com/stars4/kswiesner/fiction10.html
Below you’ll find an excerpt from Book 6 in this series, available now, as well as blurbs for the final two upcoming novels in the series:
DRIFTER’S HEART, Book 6, A Cowboy Fever Series Novel
Awards & Honors:
5 stars from A Bookish Escape
5 stars from Harriet Klausner
Easy to love, hard to hold…
Maggie May’s pa is still looking for the cowboy who knocked up his cowgirl vixen daughter five years ago. Little Tex has grown up without a father, but he’s the shining star of the May Ranch. Like his father, though, he’s always running off and disappearing. Just when Maggie May thinks it’ll never happen, the drifter she loves shows up, suddenly wise to the fact that his oh-so-altruistic efforts to quiet her endless stream of conversation had ended with a child. Horse trainer for hire and former rodeo bullfighter, Ryder McCall returns to Fever, Texas. This time, Maggie May plans to get him back in her clutches–and win his heart forever.
Drifter’s Heart Excerpt
© Karen Wiesner
Four years later
“What will you do when the babies come, Amanda?” Keri Woods-Lewis asked while Maggie brushed color from root to ends on a section of the hair she was low-lighting. Almost as if magnetically drawn, all eyes went to Amanda’s hugely pregnant stomach. “I mean, Shell can’t handle the ranch on his own during that time, and you know what they say about twins. They almost always come early. So he might be on his own longer. That’s a lot for one old coot.”
“Plenty of cowboys in the area who’ll be willin’ to help out,” Mama May said before Amanda Mackenzie could respond and explain the worried look on her face. Belle didn’t look up from working on Amanda’s nails.
They lived in a cooperative circle of ranches. All five cattle ranches in Fever could count on each other during the various seasons of work. The Mackenzie Ranch was the newest and the only horse ranch in the area. While it was still small—boarding, training and selling horses mostly for ranch work—the operation had expanded by leaps and bounds in the last few years. Amanda’s husband, Wings or “Mac” as everyone called him, along with his lone hand, Don Shelley, had been handling all the day-to-day work.
By rote, Maggie sectioned out another lock of hair with her tint brush, then reached for a foil. “Hasn’t Shell been talkin’ about retirin’ anyway?”
“He’s been with the Mackenzies for so long, working for Wings’s dad and now his oldest son, I think he feels strange about retiring,” Amanda said what they all could have guessed about the old cowboy. “But he wouldn’t mind doing it part-time instead.” Shaking her red head, Amanda glanced toward her open kitchen window. “Truthfully, Wings has been more worried about all this than I have been. I keep saying that surely women have been having babies longer than I have! I have no doubt that everything will be fine. But Wings can’t forget how far we are from the hospital…”
More than an hour from any city of consequence, Fever, Texas was located between the Permian Basin to the south and the Texas Panhandle to the north. What little “town” there was to speak of amounted to a church, a gas station with basic groceries, a variety of cattle and horse ranch businesses that sold feed and such, a single school that taught first grade through twelfth, a diner, antique shop, and the well-frequented tavern, the Spitfire.
“I’m not saying being so far from the hospital isn’t a little scary,” Keri—the mother of three, all in school at the moment—offered, “and I’ve never had twins, but Joshua has always gotten me there in plenty of time.” Joshua designed furniture and his business was in his own workshop on their property. Unlike most of the cowboys in these parts, he could usually be counted on not to be out in some field, miles from communication.
Maggie realized what her best friend, Amanda, wasn’t saying. Mac was worried not so much about getting there in time but about something going wrong. Twins were a whole different ballgame. Maggie had been utterly terrified when she’d gone into labor, reminded that not so long ago a woman her age and a once-upon-a-time friend of hers, Karla Abrams, had gone into labor unexpectedly…and she’d lost the baby before her husband Ken got her to the Lubbock hospital. Maggie’s daddy had acted like he hadn’t been through it five times previously with his own kids, then a whopping eighteen times as a grandfather. When Maggie had asked her mother why he was so all-fire anxious, Belle had said, “You’re his only baby-girl. Don’t ya know he’d go through this for ya if he could, sug?” Maggie had giggled through the pain of a violent contraction, but she suspected now that Mac would do the same for Amanda.
Instead of immediately moving to the last section to apply lowlights to Keri’s blond hair, Maggie walked to the kitchen archway that led into the dining room, and from there, looked into the living room on the far end of the house. She had a clear view of her baby boy, Little Tex, sleeping on the couch. Getting him down for a nap had been the usual fight, but his body realized he needed the rest even if he would never give in to such a notion. Tex was a ball of fire, always moving, flying, burning through life in search of the next adventure. She knew it wasn’t easy for her friends to take. They’d “Tex-proofed” their houses in preparation for their visits—bells on every door and window—and anything even vaguely dangerous or precious far out of reach. He talked a mile a minute, got mad when no one understood him and threw tantrums as a result, butted into every conversation, and talked at the top of his voice at all times. He was never quiet, never still, and he was always in trouble, breaking things or acting out. Yet everyone seemed to love him. Like Maggie did herself, they saw beneath the flurry and recognized his heart was sweet and innocent.
Against her will, she returned to her clients and closest friends. Amanda started saying, “Anyway, Wings has finally hired someone to handle the ranch, and not just while I’m having the babies. The cowboy is quite a bit younger than Shell and he knows horses, too, as well as he does cattle. Apparently he’s worked around these parts seasonally, at most of the other ranches.”
Maggie straightened, feeling her insides go rigid with uncertain expectation. No one seemed to notice her breathless hesitation, listening so close now she could barely get herself to finish off the foils.
“Wings says he’s so good with horses, he doesn’t even need to say anything. He can train them with his touch and the look in his eyes.”
Mama chuckled at the exaggeration.
“Wings has been trying to get him down here since last year, but apparently he had a really bad accident that almost prevented him from ever walking again. He’s been in intense rehabilitation, and he’s back on his feet now, though he’ll always have a serious limp and pain.”
“What’d you say his name was, sugar?” Mama May asked what Maggie wasn’t sure she could get herself to, even while her heart was jumping out of her chest, longing to hear the name that was as bittersweet as nostalgic memories, good tea, and the end of a beloved book.
“I haven’t yet. It’s Reece…no, Ryder. Ryder Mc…something.”
“McCall,” Belle filled in with no undue concern.
“That’s it,” Amanda confirmed. “Wings knew him when they were much younger, and he’s been trying to get Ryder back here.”
Invisible hands closed around Maggie’s throat. A band around her heart squeezed so hard, she could hardly breathe. She moved over to the archway between the kitchen and the living room again, her back to the other women so they couldn’t see the tears in her eyes. “What happened to him?” she asked without conscious thought. “How did he get hurt?”
“Oh, bullfighting. Wings says a bullfighter is a bull rider’s bodyguard. When the rider was thrown from the bull, Ryder and his teammates engaged the bull. The monster went after Ryder and trampled him like he was a puppet. It’s a miracle he’s alive. He ended up with two all but shattered legs, his ribs broken, and a severe concussion despite the protective vests and helmets they’re required to wear these days. He was in the hospital for more than nine months. He’s not entirely healed and probably will never be, but Wings believes him when he says he never wants to go back in the ring and face down one of those creatures again.”
“We come from a long line of rodeo cowboys,” Mama May said unexpectedly, a hard edge in her tone. “We don’t talk about it with our kids, but it’s how Maverick and I met. We’ve seen countless relatives maimed for life from what’s laughably called a sport. Mav and I decided to put a stop to it. We never even took our kids to a rodeo. The last thing we wanted was one of ’em to catch the fever that won’t allow them to see the danger they’re puttin’ themselves in. No, that kind of thing…bullfightin’ and ridin’…nobody walks away from either unless they sustain an injury that makes it impossible to continue. Even then…”
Maggie was stunned to hear this from her mother. It was true her parents had never been much for visiting relatives. Extended family always came to them, to the May Ranch, for holidays and visits. Maggie had never thought to ask what they did for a living—she assumed they were ranchers or hands in other parts of the state. It hadn’t mattered. Now she wondered. Sure, her big brothers had sneaked off more than once to go to a rodeo—Maggie hadn’t seen the harm in that, though she’d never had any personal interest in it.
Is that where Ryder went when he left me? Ran off to be a bullfighter? ’Cause it’s in his blood; it’s a fever he can’t walk away from for too long…but now maybe he’ll have to because of his injury. Dear Lord, what happened to him? How bad was he hurt that he was in the hospital for almost a year and won’t ever fully recover?
Then another thought came to her. How well known was Ryder on the rodeo circuit? Had her daddy recognized—or failed to recognize—Ryder when he hired him for the season? Not one of the other hands had mentioned what Ryder did when he wasn’t working cattle ranches, and she knew her daddy’s workers were bigger gossips than Mabel Mulroney. Maybe they don’t know or Daddy warned them not to tell me. And maybe he deliberately kept Ryder’s rodeo identity from me so I couldn’t go looking for him after he disappeared and I told them I was pregnant. Did he assume Ryder was the father? The dread of exactly that grew in her, pushing aside the tears.
When she turned back to the kitchen table where she was working, she refused to meet her mother’s eyes but sensed a strange look directed at her.
* * * *
While Keri and Mama May were returning their haircutting and styling kits to the truck and Maggie and Amanda were putting lunch on the table, Maggie asked her best friend casually, “Where’ll Ryder be staying? In the bunkhouse with Shell?”
Amanda nodded as she took the cover off the veggie-filled whole grain pasta salad Maggie had made last night for their weekly get-together.
“When will he get here?”
Her friend looked up in surprise. “Oh, didn’t I say? He’s already here. He’s been here for a few days.”
A few days? How could I not have known? How could I not have sensed him so close by? Panic made it difficult for Maggie to ask with continued casualness, “How bad is he hurt? I mean, with two shattered legs, it seems impossible he can even walk, yet he’s gonna be Mac’s new foreman?”
“It’s a miracle. I actually saw the footage of that accident during the few times my internet was working out here. I can’t believe he survived. It was so horrible. No one expected him to live, let alone walk again, but the limp is actually the worst of it…and the pain in one leg he doesn’t like to talk about.”
Knowing Amanda would be suspicious, especially when her mama came back in with Keri, Maggie shook off the need for more information. “Well, it’ll be good to have someone else in charge, someone to help Shell, ’specially when those babies come. Mac’s gonna wanna take paternity leave for a good, long while.”
Amanda giggled, nodding.
From the opposite corner of the kitchen, Tex was talking incomprehensibly to Amanda’s dog, Pip-Pip. Maggie couldn’t understand a word he was saying. Of everyone, she was best at deciphering her son’s language, but even she couldn’t pick up more than two-thirds of his constant communication. The tiny toy spaniel seemed to understand perfectly. The two had a bond that defied Pip-Pip’s intolerance of everyone except his mistress. If Ryder is truly the horse whisperer Mac believes him to be, my Tex is an animal whisperer—animals love and comprehend him. Maggie had noticed he had a way with all living creatures since he was just a baby.
For the first time, she looked at her son and wondered if anyone around here would notice the similarities between Tex and Ryder. With adorable, deep dimples in his cheeks, his big, bluebell eyes, and mischief, mystery and unfathomable emotion lurking in every facet of his expression, Maggie concluded that few would miss the likeness if the two stood side by side.
Keri and Mama returned to the kitchen. When his grandma tried to pick him up, Tex struggled out of her hold within seconds of giving kisses. No one and nothing kept her little cowboy down for longer than two seconds. To say he was a handful and then some was to underemphasize the sheer Tasmanian devil in him. A few months ago, she’d let herself admit that Tex’s energy wasn’t normal—wasn’t like anything she’d seen in her brothers’ many children. She’d taken Tex to the doctor and learned something that did the opposite of relieve her. It was then she’d broken her promise to herself and tried to find Ryder.
Unfortunately, Fever was smaller than small with little means for locating a drifter who didn’t care to leave anything like a forwarding address when he cleared out. Maggie had even asked her father if he knew anything more about Ryder beyond his name. Whatever had convinced her daddy that Ryder was a good man when he hired him clearly had changed because he’d had nothing to tell her at all.
Nor did any of the other ranchers in the area. Did Daddy convince them not to tell me anything if I came around askin’? Because the May Ranch was still stuck in the dark ages, as was Fever in general, she’d gone to the local library and used their single computer with sluggish, sporadic internet service. She’d found out nothing about him mostly because she didn’t know enough to refine her search, and the librarian hadn’t been much more knowledgeable than she was. Even the post office had never heard of him, since he’d never had any mail delivered through them.
Not once had she considered asking Mac or Amanda about him. She wouldn’t have guessed in a million years that Mac knew him. Just a few years ago, Mac had been co-owner of a wastewater treatment engineering firm situated in Los Angeles. He’d settled down after falling in love with Amanda. I gave up searching for Ryder too soon. But now he’s here and I don’t feel ready. How to explain…
Maggie wondered if Ryder would be bothered, knowing he had a son who was already four years old. What would his reaction be? It wasn’t as if the two of them had had some great love story. She’d chased him like a bitch in heat. In cattle country, hordes of single women chased any man, whether he was eligible or not. Most of the cowboys settled down early and started a family. The rest of the men were drifters, coming and going for seasonal work on the ranches. Ryder was one of the most eligible men who’d come through Fever in many a year. He was a novelty and he’d gained a reputation of avoiding attachments. No one knew why. There’d been plenty of speculations. Maggie had been determined to be the one to catch him. And she had. For a single night. When he’d cut out in the morning, he’d made it clear he didn’t care what the consequences of their night together wrought. He didn’t want to be found. She hadn’t found him when she most needed him. Now I’m half crazed and scared out of my mind about seeing him. I made a fool of myself over him once before. But I’m no longer the boy-crazy filly I was. I’m thirty-eight years old, and I’ve settled down. The only male I care to chase down is my high-rev little boy. And concerning the situation I need to talk to Ryder about…dear Lord, I don’t wanna be alone in this.
Had Ryder changed? Had he really cleared out before the busy season was over because of a family emergency, like her father had said? Did it matter? Did it make up for her devastation when she’d found out he was gone after they shared something so precious and unforgettable to her? Make up for the fact that, when she’d needed Ryder McCall the most, he hadn’t been anywhere to be found?
During a meal she barely touched, Maggie struggled with her own desire to storm outside and find him, demand to know why he’d disappeared off the face of her earth. Why he’d used her so callously. Why I wanted him to. Other than the freak weather, she’d engineered that night from start to finish…because she was in love. Did she really have any right to make demands on him, insist that he take responsibility for the life he’d helped create?
But none of that had been why she’d tried to contact him a few months ago. No, all she’d wanted was someone—a partner, Tex’s father—to share her fears of the future. She hadn’t told anyone else because only Ryder could fill the role she needed him to step into.
Because she couldn’t control her own insane emotions over the prospect of seeing him again, she planned to do the only thing she could do: As soon as Tex had lunch, she’d flee the scene. She was desperate not to catch the slightest glimpse of Ryder McCall or to be seen by him.
A WING AND A PRAYER, Book 7, A Cowboy Fever Series Novel (sequel to “Taming April”, Book 4 of the Cowboy Fever Series)
Coming April 2020
Wedded bliss is all it’s cracked up to be…until Shawn Jacobs and April St. Clair find out how hard it is to be full-time parents and individuals.
Shawn and April have never been happier. They’ve been married for a few blissful years, enjoying a love they never expected to find, and somehow Shawn being a co-owner of the Triple Aces Ranch in Fever, Texas has managed to work out with April’s career as a partner at a prestigious law firm in Lubbock. Pregnancy throws a monkey wrench in their carefully laid plans, but April fully intends to keep working once she’s taken a lengthy maternity leave. She doesn’t expect going back to work to be so hard, even after they’ve hired a suitable, older nanny that they and their son take to immediately. Suddenly the full life she and Shawn have built for themselves doesn’t seem as bright and shiny as she imagined it always would be. Deep down, she believes Shawn resents her desire to continue her career and April can’t help her own guilt and longing to be a full-time mother. The situation comes to a head when Shawn realizes that their almost-too-perfect nanny is none other than his own mother, who’d gotten pregnant as unwed teenager and abandoned Shawn to her older brother when he was just a child. As a couple, Shawn and April face the realities of love, life, and mistakes.
LEGENDARY LOVERS, Book 8, A Cowboy Fever Series Novel (sequel to UNDER THE SPELL, Book 5 of the Incognito Series)
Coming November 2021
After being worlds apart for most of their adult lives, Alex Lynch and covert Network operative Gina Calhoun (aka Justine Fielding) are together again and not just for a few stolen weeks a year. Gina is finally free of the organization that owned her without reprieve. Their path to forever is clear…but after being a part of a high-powered, black ops unit for so long, is a quiet life on a small ranch in Fever, Texas a possibility for her or is there truly no escape and no love for a soldier too long on the battlefield?