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Rustling the Cowboy's Heart

Rustling the Cowboy's Heart

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They’re frenemies but have to get married to save the ranch from ruin.

Narrated by Lorana Hoopes

  • Small town
  • Frenemies to lovers
  • Marriage of convenience
  • All grown up
  • Family saga
  • Mystery-treasure hunt subplot


They’re frenemies but have to get married to save the ranch from ruin.

After a recent breakup leaves Amelia Ames with suspicions about her ex, she doubles down on documenting the history of her small town of Smuggler’s Springs. However, when her high school crush crosses her radar, she finds herself distracted.

When Parker Ritchie loses his father, he’s devastated, but he’s also confused about the stipulation in the will that he get married. His bigger concern is losing the ranch. That is until the girl who got away pops back into his life.

When a double date goes wrong, Amelia is in a position to help Parker save legendary Ritchie Ranch, but only if they tie the knot. Questions about who is behind the rash of vandalism on the property and a tragedy in the past threaten to keep them apart.

Will Amelia and Parker’s marriage of convenience be exposed or turn into a happily ever after?

This is book 1 in the Richie Ranch Clean Cowboy Romance series. Because of a mystery subplot, the first three books are best read in order for a deeper, richer experience. It is a sweet, small-town, cowboy “clean and wholesome” romance that’s Christian faith-friendly without swearing or mature content and contains a happily ever after.

Chapter 1 Look Inside

Chapter 1: Amelia

Some days were so difficult, it was easy to wish they
were over. But Amelia Ames had learned that each day
was a gift from God and something to be grateful for because the next day wasn’t a guarantee. Losing her mama had taught her that lesson early. Plus, she wasn’t afraid of hard things.

She knew that difficulties didn’t last forever—neither did the
good times. That was one thing that made life bittersweet. But
also reminded her to relish the special moments.

Another thing that made life bittersweet was funerals.

There was sadness at losing the person, but also the great honor of having known them, witnessing the good they’d done in their lives, and the legacy they’d left.

And a funeral was just where Amelia was headed. She
carried that bittersweet truth while on her way to pay her final respects to Clay Ritchie.
Summer hadn’t quite let go of its hold on that early
September day. The heat and humidity lingered in the air, the sun shone high, and the sky lit electric blue over the central Texas hills.

While Amelia’s social media feeds were bombarded with
cute posts about sweater weather and pumpkin spice lattes, she wanted nothing more than to be barefoot and in a sundress.

Instead, she wore a black cardigan sweater over a black dress with stockings that made her legs itch.

Amelia was no stranger to dressing for sophisticated occasions, but a secret part of her wanted to leave that aspect of her life behind. The fancy dinners, the small talk with everyone from
strangers to Texas society elite, and making a good impression for her father wasn’t exactly her first choice—the laid back Ritchie lifestyle was more her cup of iced tea—her preferred beverage.

For so long she felt it was her duty to take her mother’s place
—to put on a brave and charming face for the wealthy and influential people her father, Abbot Ames, rubbed elbows with. She even dated Rex Cole because her daddy had set them up. Rex
said he’d accompany Amelia to the funeral but hadn’t replied to
her call about what time he was going to pick her up.

Not wanting to be late, she drove to the church by herself.
She sighed as she passed Ritchie Ranch with its broken gate. The car seemed to do the same. Her father had bought her a Cadillac because her practical and gas efficient Toyota didn’t portray the
Ames aims as he’d said.

Abbot was the lead partner for one of the premier legal firms
in the state and was running for political office. It had always been important to him for the family to look the part of well-to-do. Again, his words. But especially so after they lost Martha, the love of his life.

He’d turned his focus entirely to raising his reputation among
the elite, as well as grooming Amelia for a prosperous marriage.

Cowboys like the Ritchies were not in the running.

Amelia had been childhood friends with several members of the Ritchie clan and no way would she turn her back on them despite everything that had happened. That was not the reputation she wanted to have. She went along with her father’s plans because his heart was already broken and she tried to do everything she could to help mend it.

Amelia braked at the one traffic light in town. The car shuddered. For a moment, she worried it would stall. When she got the green, it gave a sluggish chug chug before going again.

She passed the Historical Society, where she worked, housed in a small brick single-story tucked between larger buildings and shops. Originally, it had been the train depot and had an old-style
charm—all of Smuggler’s Springs was like that. The depot had been moved to the edge of town next to an Italian restaurant.

When she arrived at the church on the next block, small
groups dressed in black gathered in front, speaking in low tones.

Others huddled together in tears and consoling each other.
Sadness for the Ritchie’s loss, and over losing her own mother to cancer when she was a teenager, twinged her heart.

Amelia greeted a few people she knew, including Hattie
Swan from the market who’d lost her parents long ago in a tragic accident. Now, Parker and Tucker, Clay’s sons, were adult orphans too.

The men took off their cowboy hats as they entered the
church. The Ritchies were a large family and one of the first in Smuggler’s Springs. There was little she didn’t know about their history as part of her project with the Historical Society, documenting the town’s past and writing a book which would then be
made into a segment as part of a documentary covering the Treasure Hills—the nickname for the region.

Over the last several months, Amelia had spent a few afternoons in Clay Ritchie’s company. He loved telling stories as much as she enjoyed hearing them, taking notes, and chronicling the past.

It was strange, but Amelia almost felt more comfortable
immersed in history than she did in the present. She often joked that she was born in the wrong decade and longed to go back to a simpler time. Not that she didn’t enjoy the advantages of modern-day, but there was something special about the stories
Clay told along with many other longtime locals she’d
befriended as she did her research.

The funeral service began. Amelia prayed along with the
readings and blessings. Shawnee Ritchie went to the podium and
said a few words, including, “Clay Ritchie had lived a long and
eventful life. He passed peacefully at home on the ranch with his sons and a nurse by his side. They’d sung him home and made sure he’d felt as comfortable as possible. He will be dearly missed.”

Several other people went up and said a few words honoring
him before the service was over. The group moved to the cemetery down the street. After that, they went to Ritchie Ranch for the reception.

Amelia sought out Tucker Ritchie, Clay’s younger son, and offered her condolences.
Rex approached, interrupting them with a loud, “Howdy.” He
had a paper coffee cup in his hand and knocked his fist against Tucker’s arm. “Your dad is in a better place,” Rex said.
Amelia winced. When her mother passed that was the last thing she’d wanted to hear.

At the time, with her emotions so raw, the better place was for her mom to be there with her still and alive.

“I know exactly how you feel, Tucker. When I lost my
grandma, I felt wrecked. But it was your dad’s time. Be strong,” Rex said. As usual, he made the situation about himself.

She absolutely cringed that time and tried to signal with her gaze that he wasn’t saying anything helpful.

Tucker’s jaw ticked whether because he was sad or because
he wanted to punch Rex in the face, she wasn’t sure.
It was common knowledge that the Ritchie and Cole families
were rivals. Amelia thought it would be a good idea for Rex to join her at the funeral to help smooth things over. To show that feelings had changed as generations had passed.

Rex went on in his typical way, talking about himself.

Amelia mostly tuned him out. But she also often felt the need to apologize for Rex’s behavior. As far as he was concerned, everything revolved around him being a lawyer, having a fancy sports car, and all of his big boy toys, as he called them.

She told herself he didn’t know any better. Like her, he’d
been among the Texas elite and as such, was often given or took whatever he wanted without thinking about other people.

However, they didn’t have that in common. He was selfish and
self-centered and the guy her father wanted her to marry.

The notion tied her stomach in knots.

Tucker’s soft expression started to harden as Rex went on about the Ritchie property and the option to drill for oil. If she didn’t intervene, it was obvious he was only going to make things worse between the families during that tender time.

She placed a gentle hand on Tucker’s arm. “I’m sorry for
your loss, Tucker. Your father was a great man.” She smiled and then tugged Rex away.

She had to find Parker Ritchie, Tucker’s older brother.

The surly one.

The moody one.

The one she tried to avoid.

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