Nothing But Cowboy (The Raffertys of Last Stand #1) - Justine Davis

Chapter One

When he found the kid sacked out on the hay he was supposed to be doling out to the horses in the barn, Keller Rafferty felt a spike of irritation. He’d thought after six months of this foster thing that he and Lucas had reached an accord, a balance of sorts, but maybe not.

Then he heard some chomping from the closest stall. He went to look, and saw his horse Blue contentedly munching on what was obviously fresh hay. He checked the stall next to him and found the little sorrel doing the same. He checked every one of the dozen stalls, down to the brood stall at the end, where the pregnant buckskin mare, Bonnie, gave him a curious look. It was a rerun every time.

Lucas had finished the job. He’d put in a full day working, to make up for the absence of two of Keller’s brothers who were gone this weekend, and had clearly been looking forward to dinner and some downtime when Keller had asked him to do the evening feeding.

“Now?” Lucas had asked. It hadn’t quite been a whine, but close.

“Some things can’t be put off just because we’re tired or shorthanded. Livestock feeding is one of them.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the kid had muttered. “I know, they eat before we do.”

And they had.

Great. Now I feel like an ass.

Keller lifted his hat and ran a hand over his hair. He’d only made the change to the cooler, straw Resistol this morning. He was stubborn that way, or so Mom said, waiting until it broke eighty to switch. And since she was usually right—about everything—he didn’t argue the point except to say if he was really stubborn, he would argue the point. That usually got them both laughing. And if it didn’t, the fact that she’d bought this one for him, the straw with the Cattleman crown and the ventilation holes in the shape of X’s, chosen because the style’s name was “All My Exes” after one of her favorite country songs, usually did. And they ended up hugging before she shooed him off to the day’s work. And he went, thankful that he only had one ex, and that she lived nowhere near Texas.

And neither of them ever mentioned the real reason he resisted setting the black felt cowboy hat aside for the hotter months. That it had belonged to the man they had both loved and lost. Kyle Rafferty had been killed overseas nineteen years ago in a place that made a dry Texas August look like a green jungle. And the family he’d left behind had never been the same.

But that they were still a family at all was because of the indefatigable Margaret Rafferty. A tornado of energy in a petite blonde with a pixie haircut, she had persevered, dedicating her life to raising alone the boys she had brought into the world.

As it always did, those thoughts brought on an echo of grief, one he doubted would ever go away. Some days it was stronger, some days more distant. Sometimes it swept over him with as much pain as if it were fresh, sometimes he was able to look back and smile. But in the beginning, at seventeen, he had barely been able to function at all, so overwhelmed had he been with pain and horror and anger.

And that’s where the kid is now. Cut him some slack.

It had been a little less than a year since Lucas Brock’s parents had died in a tragic crash ten miles out of Kerrville, where they’d been involved in preparing for the annual folk festival. The couple had shared a profound love for the music celebration, which of course meant their at the time twelve-year-old son loathed it and insisted on staying home in Last Stand with a friend.

It was the only reason the boy was still alive.

He reached out and nudged the kid’s foot with his own. Noticed the spots on the worn tennis shoes around the toes. Wondered if maybe he’d outgrown them; he seemed to remember his own feet growing an inch over one summer. And his mother explaining this was why the expensive cowboy boots could wait until he was full grown.

“Wha—?” Lucas opened his eyes and rose up on one elbow. Sleepy brown eyes widened when he saw Keller. “I finished,” he said quickly.

“I know. Good job. Now it’s time for dinner.”

“Oh.” Lucas scrambled to his feet.

“And Mom’s cooking tonight.”

“Oh!” He smiled then. It didn’t last, but it had flashed