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Finding Home (Roped by the Cowboy Duet Book 1) by J.C. Valentine (1)














Vivian Parish clamped her jaws together at the sound of the robotic voice repeating itself yet again. Normally, she loved Siri to freaking death. The girl had gotten her out of a lot of would-be-sticky situations, but today, she was as useless as a pair of crutches to a three-legged dog.

Getting lost along an endless length of dusty, two-lane highway with zero signs of life was not her idea of a fun time. Had she just gotten on a damn plane she wouldn’t be chasing her tail

Hell if she knew where the hell she was. Not even Siri could figure it out.


Dammit! She just wanted to see the ocean! Frustrated, Vivian tapped her manicured fingernail on the screen in hopes that it would help set the map straight. Instead, it blacked out, dying in the middle of its attempts to get her back on course.

Welp, that settled it. She was going to die here.

Where the hell was here anyway? She’d been driving for days. Aside from a few patches of forest to break up the rolling green hills, the landscape hadn’t changed much. If only the highway hadn’t suddenly veered off to become a scenic, ancient stretch of roadway that didn’t even remotely resemble the six-lane monstrosity teeming with travelers, she wouldn’t be on the verge of a panic attack right now.

Regret set in that she hadn’t paid more attention to her geography teacher when he’d taught her and the rest of her ninth-grade class how to read a map. It’d never made much sense to her, and with today’s technology, she hadn’t seen the point in learning, but now...

The only plan she had to fall back on was to continue driving. Civilization had to sprout up sometime. One look at the needle on the gas gauge and she knew that moment needed to be soon.

“God, please don’t let me get stuck out here and get eaten by buzzards,” Vivian prayed aloud. “Oh, and Amen.” Good Christian training and a grandmother who never missed a nightly prayer despite never attending Sunday Mass taught her that. A prayer couldn’t be heard unless it was ended properly.

The Big Guy must have been listening today because, moments later, Vivian caught sight of something moving in the distance. Her eyes narrowed to slits and she leaned forward, crowding the steering wheel with her body, trying to make out what it was she was seeing.

As the car closed in on the object, she realized it was a man in a cowboy hat riding his horse. As she watched, he pulled the horse to a stop and dismounted with an easy grace that gave her senses a little kick, then approached the stretch of barbed-wire fence dividing the land from the road.

Relief swelled in her chest. The presence of another person meant civilization was within reach. Finally, she wasn’t alone.

At the sound of her approach, the man’s head lifted, and she caught a glimpse of the stranger. Tendrils of dark sweat-soaked hair peeking out from beneath a dirty hat, sun-kissed skin, and a toned, rugged body stuffed into a pair of painted-on jeans. Damn! God must have been having a good day when He made country boys. If this guy looked half as good up close as he did at thirty-five miles an hour, she might pull a Scarlet O’Hara and faint.

The sound of a shotgun blast broke through Vivian’s daydream, and before she could register where it originated, the steering wheel jerked beneath her fingers, sending the car careening toward the ditch.

“Holy...!” Struggling for control, Vivian fought the pull, pumping the brakes and praying for all she was worth. It wasn’t until she’d successfully brought the car to a stop along the side of the road that she took a full breath.

“Oh my God,” she muttered to herself as she rested her forehead against the steering wheel and drew in deep, cleansing breaths. “We almost died, Siri. My whole life just flashed before my eyes.” Worse, the last vision she had was of a pair of Manolo Blahniks she’d had to pass over last week because her newly divorced ex-husband had removed her name from their shared credit card accounts.

Did that make her shallow?

The knock on her window sent her heart racing again, and Vivian shrieked in surprise. The scream died slowly when she looked up to find a concerned cowboy staring back at her.

Oh wow. She’d had the vague impression that he was attractive when she’d passed him by the fence, but up close, he was a total stunner. He had the looks of a tall, dark, and deadly character, but those baby blues, wide clean-shaven jaw, stone-cut features, and the hint of an alluring smile claimed he just might be a touch sweet, too.

“Are you all right, ma’am?”

His voice muffled, Vivian pressed the button on the automatic window. It slid down slowly, giving her time to gather a few words that wouldn’t make her sound like a rambling idiot. Turns out, she needn’t worry about that. The total lack of words coming from her mouth just made her look like one.

As the cowboy waited, a warm, friendly smile slid fully into place. Pressing his hand to the roof of the car, he leaned down. “Are you all right?” he asked a little slower and softer this time, reducing his voice to a rumble.

Vivian’s insides melted at the sound of his thick, Southern accent. It rolled over her like...well, silk was too cliché a word for it. Ribbons of melted chocolate? Nonsense. Now her brain was just trying to be poetic. Too many romance novels had finally warped her mind.

“I’m okay,” she finally said.

He stepped back as she popped the door open and attempted to get out. Instead, the car started coasting forward, and Vivian realized with a start that in her moment of near-heart failure, she’d forgotten to put it into park.

With an “eep!” of surprise, she slammed on the brakes, the sudden stop despite the low speed jarring her, she pushed the gear into park and turned off the engine for good measure.

“Oopsie,” she said abashedly when she caught the cowboy’s sexy, amused smile.

Forcing herself not to look at him, she swung her feet out of the car and stood, turning to survey her vehicle instead of the rear end that was no doubt very, very nice.

The Porsche was listing to one side, and as she glanced down and located the ruptured tire that’d nearly sent her to an early grave, she cursed.

“If you have a spare in the trunk, I’d be happy to put it on for ya.”

Spinning on her heels, she asked hopefully, “Really?”

“Sure, just pop the trunk. It’ll be the work of a minute, and you’ll be on your way.”

Thrilled to have come across this man at exactly the right time, Vivian lunged into the front seat and pulled the keys from the ignition. “You’re a lifesaver. I can’t begin to thank you enough,” she was saying as she pressed the button to the trunk. Her words trailed off when she caught the look in his eye.

The cowboy’s eyes, which had been traveling the length of her body, snapped up to meet hers and he cleared his throat. She knew that look. Those blue eyes were spiked with a heavy dose of arousal. With a casual, unapologetic smile, he turned toward the back of the car, opened the trunk, and hefted the full-sized hunk of rubber from it.

Her own blood simmered as she watched him set to work. Men weren’t made like him back in Chicago where she lived. Nothing like her ex-husband at all. This man was rangy, his body long and lean, muscles honed to perfection. Every inch of him, from his flexing biceps to his carved back, to a—yep, she was right—tight, round backside shouted working man.

Wasn’t there a saying about saving a horse and riding a cowboy? Well, for the first time in Vivian’s life, she found herself considering what it would be like to try out a man who didn’t wear a suit to work.

Getting lost in her fantasies, Vivian failed to notice that the cowboy had finished the job until the moment he dumped the ruined tire into the trunk and slammed it shut.

“You’re all set,” he said and extended his grease-stained hand out to her.

Blinking, Vivian reached out and plucked her keys from his soiled palm, careful not to ruin her manicure. “Thank you so much. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come along.” Wanting to repay him for his kindness, she said, “Let me give you some money for your time. I don’t have a lot of cash on me, but I can write you a check.” At least she still had that. Andrew hadn’t gotten around to closing their joint account yet. An oversight, surely, but at this point, she’d take whatever small graces she could get.

His smile inched up higher and, oh yeah, he had a nice set of matching dimples that served as the punctuations on his already insanely handsome façade. “That won’t be necessary.”

“But I insist!”

“Keep your money,” he argued, backing toward the field with both hands up in front of him.

Vivian stared after him. “Are you sure?”

“Positive. Making sure you get back on the road safely is payment enough.” Then, in a manner that made Vivian’s heart gallop, he pinched the brim of his hat and tipped it to her.

She must have stood there forever. Or at least, long enough to watch him jump back over the fence, climb back on his horse, and ride away. He’d come and gone so fast it felt as if she’d dreamed the whole encounter.

As Vivian climbed back into her car and pulled onto the road, she shook her head in amusement. “Get a grip, girl,” she told herself. A month out from what turned out to be a nasty divorce, and she was behaving like a hormonal teenager, panting after the first hot guy to cross her path.

It was a good thing divorce had opened her eyes to the fact that, even after sharing ten years of her life with someone, there was no way to truly know a person. Otherwise, she just might have asked that sexy cowboy out for a couple drinks rather than letting him ride off into the sunset.

If by some chance she ran into him again, though, he would be the perfect rebound cure.