Liberty Valley Love #2
by Josie Malone
Wrangling her pony farm on weekends, Elinor Talbot is strong and smart, but still struggles to make ends meet for her family. Divorced for years, she isn’t looking for romance; however, love finds a way when her mischievous kids summon a replacement dad with the Cowboy Spell. With her indomitable spirit as a guide, Elinor challenges wickedly handsome, smooth-talking horseshoer Sean Killian to the true test of love.
Be Careful What You Witch For!
At almost 40, Sean comes with a painful past, but he knows there’s no future in living in that past. He’s ready for a family of his own, and he thinks he’s finally found the right woman. Honest, and hardworking, he calls things as he sees them, putting him and Elinor at loggerheads. Will the magic between them heal their wounded hearts, or is it all an illusion brought about by the Cowboy Spell?
Release Date: November 3, 2020
Genre: Western Contemporary Romance
A Pink Satin Romance
“Come on, guys. Hustle your bustles! We gotta go!” Elinor yelled on her way in the kitchen door. “You’ll be late, and I don’t have my pilot’s license yet.”
Did she have time to change clothes before delivering the kids to their 4-H meeting? She glanced at the kitchen clock and decided against it. She’d just finished mucking the barn and putting fresh pine shavings in the ponies’ stalls. Mud splattered her black jeans and there was horse manure on her boots. Hey, she owned and operated a pony farm and the kids were on their way to the Silver Flying A’s horse club. If people didn’t like horsy poop, they could get over it.
She was still trying to catch up on the farm after two days of substitute teaching at the local high school. Yes, she needed the money, but hell had to be trying to convince sixty seniors that Contemporary World Problems was a graduation requirement if they wanted to get out of Silver Lake High alive, diplomas in hand. She didn’t want to even remember trying to teach Washington State History to ninety tenth-graders. Ick!
There was a reason she’d stopped teaching full-time and taken her weekend hobby farm to a real five-days-a-week riding stable. Tonight, she had to get to the grain store in Snohomish, pick up a half-ton of sweet feed, and finish the evening chores, all before collecting the kids from their meeting. Of course, first she had to drop them at the monthly event, hopefully on time.
“Lynn! Jake! Let’s go. Move it! Move it!” Elinor grabbed the green and orange baseball cap that proclaimed she was the Silver Lake Pony Ranch Barn Goddess and used it to cover her nasty, black hair. She wanted a shower, but that would have to wait until after 4-H, chores, dinner, baths for the kids, and housework—life in general; hers in particular.
Lynn stormed into the room, all thirteen-year-old angst. “Jake is being a major pain, as usual. Why did you have him?”
“To make your life impossible, sweetheart.” Elinor grabbed her light denim jacket and purse. “There could be no other reason why I would have my darling boy and keep him.”
“I knew it.” Lynn tossed her head, golden-brown curls flying, blue eyes narrowed in fury. “He is your favorite.”
“Yup.” Elinor snagged her for a quick hug. “And you’re my best daughter.”
That almost earned a smile before Lynn slipped away and hurried to the bathroom, probably to put on the little bit of mascara and lip gloss she was allowed to wear. Lynn didn’t have to say all her friends wore a great deal more—it was obvious at the middle school when Elinor substituted there.
In clean jeans and a navy t-shirt matching his eyes, sandy blond hair slicked back with water, Jake charged in from the living room. “Mom, tell her to leave me alone at 4-H. When she sits by us guys, she pokes me when I ask a question.”
“Only when they’re stupid,” Lynn yelled from the bathroom. “You live to embarrass me.”
“Lynn, there’s no such thing as a dumb question. You know that.” Elinor started for the back door, opting for her best preachy teacher voice, guaranteed to annoy any child in a hundred-mile radius. “Jake has a good point. He needs to develop autonomy, not have his older sister protect him all the time.”
The comment brought Lynn squawking protests from the bathroom. She chased behind Elinor to the pickup. Meanwhile, Jake argued that his mother didn’t get the point. Lynn wasn’t trying to protect him; she just lived to harass him.
Hey, she was the mom of one teen and one tween. Of course, she didn’t have a clue about life, but they were all in the Ranger and headed for the meeting on time. Oh yeah, baby. She rocked. She was so cool, she amazed herself every once in a while.
Once she had the truck on the road, she asked, “So, who is your guest speaker tonight?”
“An elf,” Jake answered with obvious delight.
“Mo-ther!” Lynn wailed. “Does he have to humiliate me every time he opens his mouth?”
“It’s an added bonus. Relax, Lynn. Why would an elf come to your meeting, Jake?”
“Because he’s the stupidest kid on the planet. He thinks fairies and elves are real.”
“They are. On TV, elves make cookies, but they don’t have my favorites anymore—the frosted circus animals. Mom has to get those at the bakery outlet store. Santa’s elves only know about toys and reindeer, not horses.”
Elinor smiled. Even at eleven, Jake was so innocent. He really did still believe in fairytales, Santa, and fantasy.
“Those are commercials.” Lynn heaved a dramatic sigh. “There are no such things as elves, you dork. It’s a horse-shoer. He’s supposed to lecture us about hoof trims, shoeing, and diseases like thrush.”
“I know, Lynnie. That’s what I said.”
“But he’s not an elf, you twit.”
“Okay, you two.” It was time for parental intervention. Obviously, Jake had mixed up the words. “Lynn, stop calling your brother names. Jake, a horse-shoer is also known as a farrier.”
“Not a fairy or an elf. I got it, Mom.”
“You’d better. If you act stupid tonight, I’ll choke you, Jake Price.”
“And I’ll ground you for life if you lay a finger on him, Lynette.”
“Oh, Mom!” Lynn frumped into the seat. “It’s not like I meant it.”
“Just checking.” Elinor pulled into the parking lot. “Wait inside for me. I’ll be here after your meeting, but I could be late.”
“Like usual,” Jake said. “It’s cool, Mom. Marlene will stay with us until you come.”
Elinor eyed her boy, but he didn’t seem upset by the busy schedule. Before she had time to ask if he was okay with it, Lynn interrupted.
“Mom, Gypsy’s feet are too long. She has to have new shoes for the show on Saturday or I won’t place in the ribbons. Don’t you remember last summer when Gypsy threw a shoe in trail class? I lost all my entry fees because I couldn’t ride her for the rest of the day. Can I find out if this shoer has room in his book for more clients?”
Who could forget that equine disaster last year? Lynn had blamed Elinor until Christmas when the flashy palomino mare went lame. The teen did her best silent and sulky martyr routine even though Elinor made up the difference in the show fees. She mentally tallied up the riding students she had before the weekend and the accounts she expected to collect.
“No more than seventy bucks for a set of shoes, and thirty-five for trims, honey. We’ve got the whole herd to do, not just your horse. If the guy gives you heartburn about how cheap I am, walk away.”
“I will.” Lynn grabbed her belongings and urged Jake from the truck. “Let’s go. Otherwise, we’ll be late for the flag salutes and roll call.”
Elinor waited until both of them were safe in the red brick building before she drove away. It was fun to be the parent for a change. Since the divorce, the kids tended to act older than their respective ages. They tried so hard not to worry or upset her. Would the world stop turning if they messed up their rooms? If they threw clean laundry on the floor instead of putting it in dresser drawers? If they skipped homework assignments?
She decided she was going too far when she wanted that kind of trouble. Granted it hadn’t been her idea to send them to Silver Lake Middle School. There had been so many problems when Jake started at the local elementary shortly after the divorce. He asked too many questions to suit his first-grade teacher who didn’t hesitate to label him a troublemaker and insist he be tested for hyperactivity.
As a high school English teacher, Elinor knew all the buzzwords and double-speak used in the education profession. She just hadn’t expected those terms to be applied to her boy. Then Lynn started getting in trouble, too. John, their father, and thankfully, Elinor’s now ex-husband, was too busy as a high-priced lawyer to even visit the elementary, much less help resolve the problems.
During their marriage, she’d only opened the pony farm on weekends and supported it with her teaching wages the rest of the time. Once the kids fell apart after the divorce, she’d given up trying to work away from home. She left her position at Silver Lake High, homeschooled the kids, and ran the farm full time. They didn’t have as much money, but life seemed a great deal smoother, despite John’s complaints that she only did it to increase the alimony and child support. The hostilities escalated when he demanded a DNA test for both kids to prove they were his, since they had her cobalt blue eyes, not his brown ones. He’d told the first family court judge that she was forcing the kids on him when he was too busy to entertain them and the judge rained on his parade, telling him to “daddy-up.”
The world didn’t revolve around one high-priced lawyer, but her ex certainly thought it did. Why wouldn’t John simply use his visitation and spend time with their kids? Elinor had suggested shared custody at the time of the divorce, but he refused to consider the idea, so they agreed he’d take them two weekends a month, split the holidays and have them all of July.
He’d pitched a fit the last time they were in court. John had said she wanted the children to slave on the farm, not receive a quality education. The new city-slicker judge agreed and ordered her to enroll them in a public or private school. The kids started at the local middle school last September. Most of the teachers knew their stuff and Mona Craig, the principal, meant well. Jake hated it there and Lynn called the place a party palace.
Elinor pulled in at the Snohomish Co-Op and checked the time. Five forty-five. She had to be back for the kids at seven o’clock, when their meeting ended. She paid for the grain and waited for the fifty-pound sacks of specially mixed COB—corn, oats, and barley—to be loaded. Then she headed for the farm. She parked next to the barn and started to carry the bags of feed into the grain room.
On the tenth bag, she peeled off her flannel shirt and hung it on the stair rail. She was still decent. She had on the tight red T-shirt that advertised her need for a “hard-ridin’, straight-talkin’, spur-wearin’ cowboy.” Ten more bags to cart to the feed room. She looked at the barn clock. It was 6:30.
“Come on, Elinor,” she told herself. “Get moving!”
She had to be back at the community center in half an hour. And it was a twenty-minute drive. She still needed to put out the night grain and call in the ponies from the pasture. Luckily, they knew coming in meant supper and were usually good sports. It was as if they understood they had to be fed at the same time each day. Somebody read her horse magazines before she did, and it had to be the ponies—Lynn always gave her the wide-eyed, innocent teenager look when Elinor asked why the pages were creased. And she definitely wasn’t telling her daughter again to quit reading her teacher publications or parenting newsletters.
* * *
The president adjourned the meeting at 7:02 p.m. and Lynn helped put away the folding chairs. She left the storeroom and spotted Jake coming toward her. “What’s going on? Is Mom here already?”
“No way. She’ll be late. She always is.” Jake grabbed Lynn’s arm. “Come on. He’s the one. We gotta talk to him.”
“I know. Mom said I could ask about Gypsy.”
“Not just that,” Jake hissed. “He’s our new dad.”
“What are you talking about?” Lynn looked around, but it didn’t appear anybody had overheard her brother. “Jake, chill.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not telling him. He has to figure it out for himself. I only want to make sure I’m right.”
“How are you going to do it?” Lynn whispered. “If you embarrass me by mentioning what we did last Friday, I’ll kill you.”
“Be cool, Lynnie.” Jake hustled her across the room to the horse-shoer. “Hi, I’m Jake Price and this is my sister, Lynn. We need to ask you some questions.”
“About shoeing.” Lynn gave Jake an older-sister glare, but wasn’t sure it would work. Then she eyed the farrier. Why did Jake think he was so special? The guy wasn’t that much taller than their mom. He had graying dark brown hair under his cowboy hat. At least he wore jeans and a regular, western shirt, not a suit like their dad. “There’s a show this Saturday and my mare needs new shoes, Mr. Killian.”
“My brothers go by Mr. Killian. I’m Sean.” Kind gray eyes twinkled at her. “What kind of horse do you have? I usually talk to parents about shoeing.”
“Our mom is busy. She told us to see if you have room in your shoer book for more clients,” Jake said. “We’re supposed to interview you.”
Sean chuckled. “Okay, then ask the rest of your questions. I do have room for another horse or two.”
“We have thirteen,” Jake said. “Will your wife let you have that many new ones?”
Lynn elbowed him. “Maybe his wife doesn’t keep his schedule, you dork.”
“Yeah, but his fiancée or girlfriend could,” Jake paused, “or his boyfriend.”
That got them a long look before Sean managed to say with a straight face, “I keep my own schedule since I don’t have a wife, or fiancée, or girlfriend, or a boyfriend. Yes, I could do another thirteen horses. How many need shoes and how many are just trims?”
“Ten need trims and three need shoes,” Lynn said quickly. “What would you charge us?”
“What’s your quantity discount?” Jake asked. “Have you ever quicked a horse? Does a horse ever make you angry or upset? What do you do then? Have you ever hit a horse? Mom freaks out if anybody smacks our horses.”
“Good for her.” Sean grinned at them, then pushed back his hat a little. “Those aren’t easy questions. Let me answer them one at a time.”