Page 1 of Faithful Cowboy (Whiskey Valley Bryant Brothers)

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Chapter 1

Griffin

Of course I’m given the task to drive into Jasper to pick up the romance author from the airport. I mean, why not? I’m damaged goods. I’m no good on a horse anymore and not a lot of help on the ranch, so why wouldn’t I be the one to do this job?

My brothers have all been patient with me, and because of that, I didn’t want to make a big deal of this with them, especially with King. He’s the oldest, and even though we all own equal shares of the Bryant ranch, we all follow his lead. If he feels it is important for me to be the one to pick up Hailey Young and show her the ranch, I’ll do it. However, I should be focusing on my therapy, not playing tour guide for some romance writer.

I blow out a long, low breath as I look around the airport terminal. I realize that I’m rubbing my thigh, feeling the mess of muscle and marked skin through the rough material of my jeans. I jerk my hand away and try to block out my thoughts, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t. The chaos around the baggage claim area is loud. The conveyor belts are all noisy as they roll luggage around, waiting for travelers to retrieve their gear. The loud thud as new bags arrive. People reuniting, squeals of laughter, and people talking fill the huge room. But still I get stuck in the past and my time on the battlefield.

I went into the Army because I always wanted to serve my country. If I could go back and change that decision, I wouldn’t. I know I did good things while I was in the service. If anything, if I hadn’t been shot and mangled my leg, I would still be there, proudly serving. But here I am, honorably discharged and trying to figure out my life back on my family’s ranch. I served for ten years. When our parents died, I almost quit, but King assured me that he, Chance, and Ryan could handle it. And they did. They’ve grown the ranch into something bigger than my dad ever even dreamed about. And now that I’m back, I’m determined to help the best way I can. I may not be able to ride like I used to, but I can definitely pull my own weight.

Impatiently, I pull my phone from my pocket and look at the time. I still have thirty minutes before she lands. I’m about to put my phone away when it rings and King’s name comes across the caller ID.

“Yeah.” I answer it and try not to let my unhappiness at this whole situation reflect in my voice.

“How’s it going?” King asks.

I roll my eyes. I was raised on a ranch. I’ve handled life and death situations. I’ve led men into battle and defended our country. But for some reason, my brother seems to think I’m going to have a rough go of it of picking up someone at the airport. I grit my teeth to stop myself from answering him as a smartass. “Fine.”

King is silent, and I know he’s weighing his words carefully before he speaks. That’s who he is. He never loses control, and that’s probably why he’s able to run our thousand head cattle ranch as well as he does. “Look, Griff...”

I hold my breath, waiting, determined to keep my cool.

He pauses, and then as if he found the words he wants to say, he blurts it out in a rush. “This is not a punishment. Me asking you to pick up Miss Young is not a punishment.”

Don’t say it. Don’t say it. I keep repeating it to myself, but in the end, I know I won’t be able to refrain from getting into it. “Really? Okay, is there a reason then that Chance or Ryan couldn’t have done this? You’re telling me you asked me to do it because you thought I was the best man for the job? I mean, I can’t ride a horse or do anything at the ranch without some kind of assistance, so why not send me off on an errand to keep me busy? Heck, you could have sent Allen,” I huff, naming one of our most reliable ranch hands.

King grunts into the phone. Most people don’t question him, and most usually it’s only his brothers that can get away with it. “Griffin, maybe I should have explained things a little more as to why I chose you.”

I try to interrupt him. “No, King, you don’t owe me any explanation...”

“Stop this. Stop with all the niceties like you’re my employee or something. That’s not what this is or what we are about. You are my brother, and we own this ranch together, so hear me out. It would not have been appropriate for me as a married man to pick up Miss Young. And Ryan, well, as of a few days ago, he was known as the playboy cowboy. He’s finally starting to settle down with Mia, and I don’t want to add any stress to that situation. And well, Chance. I mean, do I need to say it? He’s gruff and says it like it is and would most likely have the woman running in the other direction.”

In a low voice, I say, “And then there’s me... the—"

“Stop,” King thunders. He takes a deep breath, and I pinch my mouth closed as I stare at the ground, hating that I’m having this conversation surrounded by a hundred strangers. Not that they’re paying me any attention, but as a person that keeps things to myself, it’s uncomfortable feeling vulnerable and unsure in this setting.

“Listen to me, Griffin. You are one of the best cowboys we have. Even if you’re not completely one hundred percent, that’s the truth. And I’m going to be completely honest with you. I know that the Army has always been number one in your life. You served our country, and you served it well. I asked you to do this for purely selfish reasons. I want you to show Miss Young the Bryant Ranch because I’m hoping that when you show her our land and show her who we are and what we do, that you are able to find your place on this ranch again.”

I spit the words at him. “I know my place.”

“No, you don’t. If you knew your place, then you’d be helping me run it instead of trying to be a ranch hand. We need you, Griffin. I need you. This ranch has been my life. It has always been my sole focus, but now Natalie and Eli are my life. They need me, and I need you to help me run this ranch.”

I clench my eyes closed, feeling my brother’s words break down the walls I have built up to guard my heart. Since I’ve been back, I’ve felt like an interloper trying to fit in and find my way. I know all my brothers have handled me with kid gloves and not wanted to put any pressure on me. But this is what I need. If they need me, I will do whatever I can to be there for them. “I’m getting better, King. I’m able to do more—"

He cuts me off. “You don’t have to defend yourself to me. None of us have ever doubted you, Griffin. It’s you that has doubted yourself.”

I blow out a big breath as if my stomach is a deflating balloon. He never doubted me. He believes in me. Now it’s time I start believing in myself. “I got it. I’m ready to step up.”

King laughs, and I feel a calm come over me. “Good to hear, brother. See you when you get home.”

The click of the phone has me hanging up and looking around the area. Miss Young will be landing soon, and instead of the dread I felt earlier, I now feel a surge of something else. It’s almost as if my whole life is about to change.

Chapter 2

Hailey

The flight to Jasper was not a long one, but it did give me a lot of time to think. Which is something I’ve been trying to avoid lately. Mostly because my thoughts always seem to go to my failed marriage and my cheating ex-husband. Ten years we were married, and he threw it all away by messing around with his secretary.


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