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The Cowboy's Way

By:Kathie Denosky

The Cowboy's Way - Kathie Denosky

One

As he sat at Sam and Bria Rafferty’s dining room table after a delicious Christmas dinner prepared by his sisters-in-law, T. J. Malloy couldn’t help but smile. He listened to his foster brothers and their wives talk about what they had planned for the week leading up to the family’s annual New Year’s Eve party, which T.J. hosted at his ranch. And, as always, there was the usual good-natured ribbing and the laughter that always followed, as well as everyone making faces and funny noises to get a smile or a giggle out of the babies. Life was good and he was one grateful son-of-a-gun for the way everything had turned out.

Thanks to their foster father, Hank Calvert, T.J. and the other five men who had been placed in the man’s care when they were teenagers had straightened out their lives. In the process, they had bonded and become a family T.J. loved with all his heart. Now, he owned his own ranch, where he raised champion reining horses—a dream he’d had for most of his thirty-two years. And because he’d made several wise investments, he had more money in the bank than he could spend in three or four lifetimes.

Yup, he truly was a blessed man and he had the good sense to know it.

“Your turn, T.J.,” Bria said, smiling as she dished up slices of homemade red velvet cake. “What are your plans for the week?”

“Same as every year,” he said, smiling back at his sister-in-law. “I’ll spend the week training my horses and waiting for you all to show up on New Year’s Eve afternoon.”

Four years ago when he bought the Dusty Diamond Ranch and built his seven-bedroom house, everyone had decided that he would host the family’s New Year’s Eve gatherings. He had enough bedrooms to accommodate the entire family, and they could all bring in the New Year together without having to be out on the roads after celebrating with a few drinks. His brothers brought their wives or a date and once the kids had been tucked in for the night, they sat around and talked or watched a movie. It had become a tradition and one that T.J. looked forward to every year.

“Do you have a lady in your life who will be joining us this year?” Nate Rafferty asked, grinning from ear to ear.

Nate and Sam were the only biological brothers of the bunch, but they couldn’t have been more different if they had tried. While Sam was a happily married family man, Nate was wilder than a range-raised colt. He loved the ladies and seemed to have made it his mission in life to date every single woman in the entire southwest. But as rowdy as he was, Nate had the same sense of loyalty that had been instilled in all of Hank’s foster sons. Come hell or high water, Nate would be there for any one of them—the same as they would be there for him.

“T.J. does have a woman in his life, Nate,” Lane Donaldson said, laughing as he put his arm around his wife, Taylor. “But for some reason he won’t break down and ask his neighbor to join us.”

“You just had to go there, didn’t you, Freud?” T.J. replied, shaking his head in disgust. He should have known Lane would feel the need to comment. Having earned a master’s degree in psychology, the man knew exactly which buttons to push to get a rise out of any one of them. “She and her stallion are on one side of the fence and I’m on the other. And that’s the way it’s going to stay.”

That Wilson woman had been T.J.’s neighbor for close to two years, and he’d seen her only a handful of times. But his brothers constantly teased him about his “interest” in his ornery neighbor, even though all he knew about her was how careless she was with her horse. Hell, he didn’t even know her first name. And furthermore, he didn’t want to know it.

“You haven’t seen her since we put up that six-foot fence between your ranch and hers this past spring?” Sam asked, trying to dodge the glob of mashed potatoes his ten-month-old son had scooped off the highchair tray and tried to throw at him.

“Nope. I haven’t seen her or her stallion and that suits me just fine.” T.J. couldn’t help but laugh when little Hank landed the mashed potatoes right square on the end of Sam’s nose.

“Now that you have solved the problem of her stallion jumping the fence, what are you going to complain about?” Ryder McClain asked, laughing. His laughter immediately turned to a groan when his baby daughter, Katie, missed the burp cloth on his shoulder and “christened” the back of his clean shirt.

“Thank you, Katie,” T.J. said, grinning as he reached over to take the baby from his brother while Ryder’s wife, Summer, wiped off the back of his shoulder. “That shut your daddy up real quick.”

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