Page 10 of Faithful Cowboy (Whiskey Valley Bryant Brothers)

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But he doesn’t let me finish my sentence. “There’s not. You’re stuck with me.”

I could tell him that I don’t feel stuck. I feel anything but stuck. But I just nod my head as he pulls out and drives across his land. He points out different things, and I try to stay focused. I am here to do a job.

We work all morning. He shows me how to patch a fence, which I guess has to be done a lot on a ranch. I try to pay attention to exactly what he’s doing and even take notes, but my eyes keep going to the way his shirt stretches across the muscles of his back and upper arms as he works.

“See, that’s it.”

He’s looking up at me from his squatting position, and when he stands up, he grimaces as if he’s in pain. I want to ask him about his injury, but I already know it’s a touchy subject. It doesn’t matter anyway; he walks back to the side-by-side and sits down. “One down, around twenty more things to check off.”

I nod and follow behind him.

I look at the land around us. “I bet you love living here.”

His answer is a grunt.

I look at him curiously. “What? You don’t?”

He shrugs. “I do. Besides my time in the Army, this is the only place I’ve known. And yeah, it’s beautiful... it’s ours... but day to day, it never changes. There’s nothing... different.”

I think about what he’s telling me, and I sort of understand. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day life of things. “I get it. I think that’s why I love writing so much. I can create new worlds. Create friends and worlds where anything is possible. I can make my own happily ever afters where men don’t cheat.”

Griffin stops the vehicle and stares at me. “You want to talk about it?”

I let out a small laugh. I don’t know what it is about him, but I want to open up to him. I want to tell him everything, and that’s not me. I always keep things bottled up. I try to deflect it all. “There’s not a lot to talk about.”

He reaches over and lays his hand on mine. He squeezes it, and I suck in a breath. He leans closer, searching my eyes. “Not all men lie and cheat.”

I shrug my shoulders. “I’ve never met one. My dad cheated on my mom. It only makes sense that I’d marry a cheater too, I guess.”

He winces. “I’m sorry, Hailey. That’s so hard to understand for me. My dad loved my mom more than anything. More than us boys, more than this land. He would never have done anything to hurt her. I’m sorry you went through that.”

He paints a picture for me. One of undeniable, unconditional love. It’s a love like I write about but have never experienced. My voice is thick, and it betrays me. “What’s next?”

He opens his mouth to say something but closes it again. “We’ll head back to the barn so I can teach you how to muck a stall, feed the horses, saddle a horse, and maybe you can ride a little bit.”

“Okay,” I murmur.

We’re both quiet the whole way back. He takes note of a few more spots in the fence that needs to be fixed and radios it in, but we’re back at the barn in minutes.

We start by mucking the stalls. He grabs a shovel off the wall. “There’s really nothing to it.”

I grab another one and follow after him. He stops, and I almost run into the back of him. “What are you doing?”

He’s looking at the shovel in my hands. “I’m going to muck a stall.”

He laughs and tries to take it from me. “Oh, no. I’ll show you, but you don’t need to actually do it.”

I pull the shovel back toward me. “I learn better by doing.”

He wants to argue with me, but finally he lifts his shoulders. “Okay, whatever you want.”

I can’t help teasing him, and even though I never flirt—I’m not a flirt—I can hear the flirty tease in my voice. “Oh wow, whatever I want? I think I need to make a new list. I didn’t know ‘whatever I want’ was an option.”

He lights up at my flirting. “Honey, I don’t think I can tell you no on anything.”

I bite my lip. The attraction between the two of us is evident. I can feel it through every tremble of my body when I brush against him or if he touches me. I’m trying to fight it, but I’m quickly learning that I’m fighting a losing battle.

We muck the stall, and the more we work, the more I notice him favoring his leg. Again, I want to say something, but I don’t.

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