Her Christmas Cowboy (The Wyoming Cowboy #5) - Jessica Clare


Caleb Watson had skills. Or so he told himself. He could rope a runaway heifer from horseback. He could keep even the most ornery herd of cattle together. He could ease a breech calf out of its mother without blinking an eye. He could saddle a horse faster than anyone he knew.

And that was just ranching skills. Back when he lived in Alaska, he could track anything, fix a snowmobile out in the field, survive on his own for weeks. Heck, he could even build a log cabin and have it fully functioning within a short time frame.

He was strong. Capable. Self-sufficient.

He stared at the front doors to the elementary school and wished he could stop sweating.

Because Caleb had to acknowledge that when it came to skills in the field or in ranching? He could handle himself with the best.

When it came to talking to people?

He was the worst.

The absolute worst.

His younger brother, Jack, was smooth. He could talk the pants off anyone and always managed to get his way with a smile and a wink. His older brother, Hank, wasn’t much of a talker, but he was still better than Caleb.

It wasn’t just that Caleb clammed up around people. His mind went blank and nothing would come forward. It was like the moment he was required to give a response, he forgot what words were.

Most of the time he didn’t care. He was a cowboy; the cattle didn’t mind if he was silent. His brothers didn’t mind if he wasn’t chatty.

But around women, it was a problem.

Caleb had never had a girlfriend, which was fine when you were a kid, or when you lived in the remote wilds of interior Alaska and you might not see a single woman for months on end. Here in the town of Painted Barrel, Wyoming, though, he felt his lack of social skills acutely.

Very, very acutely.

Because Caleb was in love.

Just thinking about love made him reach into his pocket and pull out his bandanna, then mop the sweat on his brow. Love was difficult even in the best of times, but when you had trouble speaking to women, it was pure torture. Every time he got up the nerve to talk to a woman, it ended up badly.

There was that time he had a crush on a cute bar waitress back in Alaska, who he’d blushed and stammered over until she thought he was mentally disabled.

There was a girl who had worked at her uncle’s game-processing shop one summer. He’d gone there often all summer, just to try to speak to her. He’d paid other hunters through the nose for their kills so he’d have some excuse to go into the shop. When he did finally get up the nerve to talk to the object of his affection, she thought he was creepy because he was “killing so many animals” and wanted nothing to do with him. There were a few other passing women he’d managed to somehow insult without meaning to.

And now there was Ms. Amy Mckinney, an elementary school teacher in Painted Barrel.

The moment he’d looked at her, he’d been in love. Amy had a gorgeous face and a smoking-hot body, but what he liked most about her was that she was kind. Or she seemed to be. He hadn’t quite got the nerve up to talk to her himself. He’d been around when she was talking to other people, though.

He might have showed up at several PTA volunteer meetings just to hear her talk. Not that he had kids. He didn’t usually volunteer, either. But he showed up anyhow, because he’d get to watch her from afar, see her smile at others as she talked easily, and wish he wasn’t such a damned idiot the moment he talked to a pretty woman.

Today, though, he had a reason to talk to her. His brother Hank was out in one of the distant pastures, and Caleb had been cleaning out the barn when Hank had texted and said his horse was limping and he was going to walk it in, but that meant he’d be a few hours, and Hank’s daughter, Libby, needed to be picked up from school.

Caleb had immediately volunteered to go pick her up. It was the perfect opportunity. Ms. Mckinney was Libby’s teacher, so he’d stroll into class, tip his hat at her, announce he was there to pick up Libby, and strike up a conversation.

His mind went blank. A conversation about . . . what? What did