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Tangled in Divine(Divine Creek Ranch 14)

By:Heather Rainier
Chapter One

Gwen Henderson released a tired but thankful sigh as she made the final turn—one of about a million turns in the last decade—onto the long, gravel driveway of the Bucking H Ranch. She’d driven through the night just so she could have this moment. Peace and completion crept over her as she allowed the dually pickup to slowly rumble across the steel pipe cattle guard that led to her home. Her ranch. Two hundred acres of pure heaven spread out in a wintry early-morning panorama. She paused there and rested her forearms across the steering wheel, so she could take in the beauty of the ranch that had been in her family for four generations, since the late 1800s.

She’d seen that same view in her rearview mirror so many times as she’d left each year for the rodeo and barrel racing circuit, in all seasons and at all times of day.

Her heart was thankful that any time she left from now on would be a temporary trip or just a run into Rio Blanco, thirty miles away. She’d never have to promise herself that soon she’d be home for good. That day was today.

Retired. Successful. With enough barrel racing championships, and the buckles, trophies, and prize money to prove it, and an entire life spent both in the saddle and on the ground developing an understanding for horses, to start her on the next chapter of her life. Training barrel racing horses and their riders.

Tears prickled in her eyes at the pastoral beauty of the cattle grazing at hay on the rolling hills in the early-morning light. Two of their Morgan horses sidled up alongside her truck at the pipe fence line, as though welcoming her home. These were horses she planned to use as “trainers” as soon as she could get started with her first pupils. She rolled down the truck window and whistled softly, and one of the mares nickered in reply. She giggled when her beloved Zephyr, the horse that had brought her to so many championships, neighed loudly as if in greeting from the luxury horse trailer Gwen was pulling behind her pickup.

Damn, I love my life.

She took out her smartphone to capture the panoramic beauty before her. After uploading it to Facebook, she typed a quick status update. The start of a new chapter in her life needed to be marked for posterity.

“I’m home. For good. No more life on the rodeo circuit for me.”

Christmas was just four days away. The holiday season had always been difficult for her family. Maybe this fresh start would mean an end to the doldrums she’d always experienced during this time of year.

Accelerating slowly, Gwen put her phone back in her purse and hit the button to roll the window back up. She adjusted the heat in the truck as she took the first turn that would lead her on the winding path to their ranch house two miles down the road. The scent of pine now filled the truck and she breathed it in appreciatively. This was her home. White frost covered the ground and sparkled on the steel pipe fence posts as her big truck purred down the driveway, between the cross-fenced sections of pastures closer to the house and barns.

She was surprised to not see her dad and the ranch hands out working in the fields and surmised that their work kept them in other parts of the ranch. She’d told him what time she’d be arriving but didn’t mind if she had to saddle a horse and go looking for him.

A song she liked began playing on the sound system and she flicked the button on the leather-covered steering wheel to turn it up as she sang along. The lyrics to “Say Goodnight” by Eli Young Band made her smile as she remembered the first time she’d heard it.

She’d been visiting Teresa Martinez and her family in Divine, Texas, just a few months before. Julián Alvarez had gazed at her with bedroom eyes as she’d sat across from him at The Dancing Pony, and he’d reached for her hand. No words were required. Her fingertips tingled at the memory of his warm, work-roughened palm as it had brushed over her hand. Longing quivered deep inside her as she recalled the way he’d whispered to her on the dance floor. That longing gave her happiness a bittersweet edge.

I do love my life. There’s just one thing missing—someone to share it with.

She shook her head and sighed, dispelling the loneliness that was part of the reason she’d finally decided to retire at the age of thirty-four. Too many miles on the road alone. And too many good-byes. She looked around and knew exactly what she wanted. Something that would last—that would always be there. Like the ranch. A legacy that would be passed down to her that she would eventually pass on to the next generation.

Good things come to those who wait. This is one of them. The right man will come along someday too. As Eli Young sang, Julián’s face flickered in her mind again. Of all the men she’d ever spent time with, and then parted from with a wave and a smile, he was the one who came to her mind. The one man she’d wanted but had never been with, though they’d come awfully close the last time they’d seen each other. Timing and circumstances had interrupted what would’ve been an undoubtedly stellar session of sweaty, no-holds-barred sex.