Overprotective Cowboy - Elana Johnson

Chapter One

Ted Burrows grinned when he saw the man sitting across the room, wearing a cowboy hat. His heart leapt at the familiar sight of Nathaniel Mulbury, though Ted hadn’t seen Nate in months.

He started chuckling a couple of tables away, and Nate stood up, a giant grin on his face too. “Nathaniel,” Ted said, engulfing Nate in a hug. The other man didn’t particularly like his full name, but he laughed too. Ted clapped him on the back a couple of times. “What are you doing here?”

Nate stepped back, something new lighting his eyes. Ted recognized the shine of freedom in his friend’s face, and he wondered what it would look like on him.

Ted was getting closer to his release date, but he’d been working very hard not to count down the days until he could walk out of the River Bay Federal Correctional Institution. He’d been counting up for so long, that counting down happened naturally. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew exactly how many days he had left inside these walls.

“I thought you were going to transfer to the camp,” Nate said, sitting back down in the seat where he’d been waiting for Ted. “Drive tourists from the ships to the restaurants and stuff.”

“Nah.” Ted sat down too, the chairs in this tiny cafeteria-like room too small for him. “The opportunity came up, but if I moved to the camp, I’d forfeit the opportunity for a halfway house.”

“Or the Residential Reentry Program,” Nate said.

“That too,” Ted said. “But I only have three and a half months. I think they put people in those programs who have more than that.”

“Well, I’m not getting strip searched again,” Nate said with a smile. “So I guess this’ll be the last time I see you before you show up at the ranch.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. It was a compact square that he fumbled to unfold, and when he finally did, he smoothed it on the tabletop and slid it toward Ted.

Ted’s heart beat strongly in his chest, and he didn’t dare hope for the chance to go to the same ranch where Nate had been. His friend had sent plenty of communications about how much he loved it, and how much he thought Ted would enjoy it too. He wouldn’t wear the cowboy hat though, and he glanced at the dark gray one perched on Nate’s head. It felt as natural to Ted as it felt unnatural, and Nate caught him looking.

“You don’t have to wear the hat.”


“You haven’t even looked at the paper.”

“Do I want to look at the paper?”

“Yes, Ted,” Nate said, with some measure of exasperation in his voice. “You want to look at the paper.”

Ted held his best friend’s eyes for another moment, and then he looked at the form Nate had put on the table. They’d both spent plenty of time in prison reading over their sentences and appeals, so a simple release form that listed Hope Eternal Ranch as the location of his Reentry Program was easy to understand.

Plus, Ted was a lawyer, and he still knew how to read complicated documents.

The date made him suck in a breath, and Nate didn’t miss that. Another chuckle came from his mouth, and he said, “So we’ll be here on Monday morning, and we’ll see how long you last without a hat.” He grinned like he knew something Ted didn’t, which was entirely possible.

Ted’s life had changed a lot over the past several years, and one of the key moments was the day Nathaniel Mulbury had joined him in prison. They’d become fast friends and blood brothers, always looking out for each other and forming a band of boys that wasn’t to be trifled with. They didn’t cause problems. They didn’t issue threats. Theirs was a mission to provide safety and security to everyone inside River Bay, and since it was a low-security facility, their strong presence ensured that the life here was fairly easy for everyone.

In a lot of ways, life inside the low-security prison was like high school. There were a few cliques, but for the most part, everyone got along with everyone else. There wasn’t much drama, and only a few fights, depending on who was in the facility with them, and for how long.

“Monday?” Ted looked up, trying to remember what day it was now. Had to be a Friday or Saturday, as those were visiting days. Wasn’t a holiday.