Monday, October 18, 2010
Plays Well With Others by Brynn Paulin
Book Two in the Daly Way Series
Paisley Szuzman came to the Laurel Ridge Ranch in Daly, Wyoming to interview for an administrative position, but she’s shocked, and secretly aroused, to find that the job might entail more than she envisioned. Anyone filling this spot must meet the criteria of plays well with others, and the “others” are the men on the ranch— four hunky cowboys who are pure, rugged temptation. Adventurous to the core, Paisley takes the challenge and finds more in store for her than she ever imagined.
Plays Well With Others (excerpt)
Paisley Szuzman glanced at the tall, rugged man before her and blinked into his piercing blue gaze. Toward the end of her interview, which she personally felt as if she’d bombed, he’d come around the desk and leaned against it. One long, muscular leg crossed the other, and as he studied her, his arms crossed as well.
Ace Graham was about as enticing as a man could get, but he also owned the Laurel Ridge Ranch. He’d be her boss if she were hired to oversee his books and such. But as of about two minutes into the meeting, she’d decided she probably didn’t have a prayer. In an office, she was great and came with glowing recommendations. As someone who knew jack about ranching… Meh…
“Miss Szuzman?” Ace asked.
She shook herself. “I think I should be honest and tell you up front… Well, I’m sure you’ve figured it out. I don’t know much about, um, ranching. I mean, I’ve always lived in the city. I looked to see if there was a Ranching for Dummies or something, not that I thought it would make me into a rancher or anything.” She laughed uncomfortably. “Anyway, there’s no such thing.”
“You don’t say,” he said, and she suspected he was biting back a grin.
That did it. He probably thought she was a vapid, vagabond twit rather than a competent office assistant. She was sorta a vagabond but not vapid by any measure. Generally, she excelled at whatever she did. In fact, she’d often been accused of being a workaholic which was one of the reasons she thought a job here in Wyoming might be the ticket for her. She was looking for a slower, small-town way of life and a job that wouldn’t keep her behind a desk until late at night. She wanted to see sunsets and breathe fresh, unpolluted air.
“Well, city girl,” he said. “Why don’t we show you some of the place, and I’ll introduce you to my partner, Brant Cauldwell.”
“Sounds good to me.”
She stood and smoothed her skirt. The pencil cut of it along with her heels probably wasn’t the best idea for tromping through a barn, but she didn’t particularly want to tell him she could easily change clothes. Her entire life was packed in her small, yellow Volkswagen parked out front. Besides battling her rampant workaholic tendencies, she’d left my last job to move west to care for her grandmother who, it turned out, was absolutely fine once she’d had a medication change. Gram was great, and Paisley was at loose ends with a trunk full of her only possessions.
“So you don’t know anything about ranches. Have you ever ridden a horse?” His denim-clad legs unfolded as he rose. He was so tall her head came to the middle of his chest where his light blue work shirt stretched over his wide pecs. His dark hair brushed his collar, and she had to fight back the desire to reach out and see if it was as soft as it appeared.
“No. The closest I’ve come to a farm animal is an Old McDonald Golden Book.”
“So…why is it you wanted a job on a ranch?” he asked with some confusion.
“I wanted a life outside the city and I can do the job. The office part. I’m good at it. Really good. And I’m a fast learner. It’s one of my best skills—that and getting along with people.”
His blue eyes assessed her, and she wondered what he was thinking with the intense gaze. He gave a slight smile.
“So you play well with others?” he said, skirting her and reaching for his Stetson.
“I guess that’s one way to put it, though usually I’m not much for playing.”
“That’ll need to change if you stick around here. We work hard, real hard, but we play hard, too. And with it bein’ fall, the days are getting a little shorter.” The rhythmic clunk of boots stopped as he turned to look at her. “That means more play time pretty soon, but not yet.”
“Okay.” She didn’t know what else to say. She didn’t get what he was saying, but she knew work didn’t stop when the snow flew. Cows didn’t just hibernate for the winter.
They headed through the outer office then into the massive living room of the main ranch house. It had to be large, she supposed. He’d mentioned that the sprawling home had six bedrooms so the person hired for admin would use one of them and have the run of the house. Any place with a half dozen bedrooms had to have adequate living space for the occupants. Of course, there was plenty of space outside. The ranch encompassed 28,000 acres.
“How many cows do you have?” she asked as they entered the front hall.
“At the moment, we have twelve hundred head.”
Head, right. Not cows.
“That’s how we count them anyway. I’d have to look in the books for the exact number because most of the adult bulls count as one and a half animals and the mothers and their calves count as one.”
“Like a complicated algebra problem,” she commented.
“Yeah. Kinda like.”
Then they were outside and Paisley took a deep breath. The scent of pine and sage and tall, fresh grass hung heavy on the air. Horses were penned nearby and with that came a slight odor of dung, but it wasn’t enough to disturb her enjoyment of the crisp late-September day, with its hushed breezes and clear blue skies.
“Do you have boots?” Ace asked.
“You’ll have to get some then.” He looked down at her nearly four-inch black pumps—her Christian Louboutin power shoes from New York. “Those pretty little things just won’t do, city girl.”
Without waiting, he headed across the space that separated the barn from the house. She hurried after, doing her best to stay forward on her soles and keep her shoes from sinking into the dirt. All without twisting an ankle and breaking her neck. Boots. Check! She’d get some ASAP. Even is she didn’t get this job, she’d need them if she stayed in this area.
“Brant,” Ace called as his long, mouthwatering legs took him into the barn. She heard a muffled oof, just as she entered, then her eyes adjusted to the change in light and went wide at the sight before her. A man… She swallowed. A dark-haired man as tall and as wide as Ace had him pinned to the wall, his hand fisted in Ace’s shirt as he kissed him. Hard.
She blinked. Staring. Then trying not to stare. Then looking back again because, sweet heaven, they were a beautiful sight together.
“Brant,” Ace growled when his lips were free but still against the other man’s. “We’re not alone.”
“It’s no big secret,” Brant laughed. “Seth and Tai—”
“It’s not them,” Ace interrupted.
The new man glanced over his shoulder. “Oh. Hey, miss. Sorry, I, uh…” His hand went up to scratch the back of his neck just above the collar. He left the sentence at that, apparently uncomfortable with his display in front of someone new.
“No big deal,” she replied. She held out her hand. “I’m Paisley.”
“Brant,” he said as his big hand enclosed hers, the rough skin sliding against her palm. She swallowed, pushing back the sudden desire to feel those calluses on more tender skin.
“She’s the new admin,” Ace said. “If she takes the job.”
“You’re hiring me?” she blurted. “Why?”
Ace bit back another grin. “Because you’re honest,” he said at the same time she thought she heard Brant say, “Because you’re a woman.”
“You mean about not knowing ranch stuff?” She focused on Ace’s statement because she couldn’t have heard Brant correctly.
“Yeah. You’ll catch up on stuff. Besides, it’s not like mucking stalls is in your job description.”
Speaking of stalls… She looked around and wondered if the smell was just one of those things one got used to. Hell, she didn’t like walking past the carriages waiting for fares in front of Central Park. The barn smelled so…barnlike. That aside, she was surprised by how clean it looked. While dimmer than outside, it wasn’t really dark. She saw lights overhead that weren’t turned on. Equipment hung on one of the walls, every piece seeming to have its place.
Neat and clean and, well, kind of smelly. Not at all the romantic place often depicted in books.
“I spend a lot of my time out here,” Ace told her. “And a lot of my time out on the spread, overseeing things and tending the cattle.”
“You don’t have someone to do that?”
The look the men gave her wasn’t quite mocking but spoke of her lack of knowledge. “Yes, but a ranch this size doesn’t allow any man to sit on his ass, ‘scuse the language, and let someone else do everything. We have someone to do the bookwork so we can be out here doing this work.”
She nodded, pretty sure she didn’t understand the magnitude of what was needed to run a ranch this size.
“I’m going over to the calving shed,” Brant told Ace. “Miss Paisley, it’s nice to meet you. I’ll see you at dinner.” His eyes swept over her, assessing her in a way that no gay man should ever assess a woman, not if he wasn’t batting for both teams. Then he nodded, gave her a friendly grin and headed outside.
“There’s probably no Ranching for Dummies book because no one’s had time to write one,” Ace commented, leading her back out of the barn. “Twenty-eight thousand acres probably sounds huge to you, but in the scheme of things four of us run it.”
“How?” she gasped before she stopped herself.
“Start early, end late, drink coffee and just keep doing what needs to get done.” He grinned. “And hope none of the heifers calve in the middle of the night. They always seem to around here.”
Paisley shuddered to think of how early “early” was in order for them to care for so many cows—head—and everything else a ranch this size would need done.
He sighed regretfully. “I’ve got to get back to things, or it will be after midnight before I’m finished tonight. You said you could start right away? The first order of business is getting you settled. You should go into Gillette and get those boots. On your way back through Daly, stop at the diner and let Leena know you’ll be over here so they know where to direct your mail—and she can avert rumors of a strange, possibly available, woman wandering town. When you get back, you can move your stuff into your room. I’ll leave a sticky note on that door so you’ll know which one. You’ll probably want to acquaint yourself with the office after that. Dinner’s at seven. I’ll see you then.”
Paisley stared after his firm backside as he left, jumped into a four-wheel drive truck then headed down a two-track across one of the fields.
She was exhausted already, just from his list, and it was only ten a.m.