One clutzy advice columnist.
One champion cowboy.
And an entire small town rooting for love.
Advice columnist Maggie Hope never dreamed she’d be shaking hands with champion horse trainer Tru Monahan over a high-stakes bet, especially one that involves horses. And saddles. And everything else a city girl like Maggie feels uncomfortable around. But after filling in for a coworker and interviewing the handsome cowboy, she finds herself doing just that. Anything to save her advice column.
Despite Maggie’s two left feet, Tru is bound and determined to bring out her inner cowgirl by teaching her to ride a cutting horse, trained to separate cattle from the rest of the herd. While her riding improves, their attraction intensifi es, but Tru knows he can never let her into his heart—for her own good.
In Wishing Springs, a community full of meddling but well-meaning townsfolk, Maggie discovers the home she’s always longed for. But she’s holding something back—a secret that could destroy her reputation and any future she’s ever hoped for with the cowboy she mightust love.
Debra Clopton is a multi-award winning novelist who was first published in 2005 and has more than 22 novels to her credit. Along with her writing, Debra helps her husband teach the youth at their local Cowboy Church. Debra is the author of the acclaimed Mule Hollow Matchmaker Series, the place readers tell her they wish was real. Her goal is to shine a light toward God while she entertains readers with her words. Visit her online at www.debraclopton.com, Facebook: debra.clopton, Twitter: @debraclopton.
"What have you gotten me into, Amanda Jones?"
Staring at the rough-looking building, Maggie Hope clutched her cell phone to her ear and fought down a hot flood of panic. "The sign says the Bull Barn. What is this place?" she gritted through tense jaws.
Rustic was an understatement for the faded wooden building sitting on the outskirts of Wishing Springs, Texas. It had dark windows and a long plank porch supported by columns made of knobby tree trunks. The steeply pitched red roof sagged in the middle. It was a dive, a shack.
"Calm down, Mags," Amanda croaked, the flu causing her to sound like an eighty-year-old smoker, instead of the intimidatingly elegant, thirty-five-year-old bombshell who was the key ingredient of the most popular morning show on Houston's local channel. She coughed. "It may look a little rough, but it's the cowboy and local folks' hangout."
"But—it's deserted. Lonesome. If it's a hangout, where is everyone?" It didn't look like a place anyone would want to hang out in. Especially Maggie. Dives brought back memories she worked hard to forget.
The TV station's van was the only other vehicle in the white rock parking lot—and that only added to her distress, which in truth was more about the TV camera than the clapboard building that looked like a leftover of the Wild West days.
She swallowed the lump in her throat. She wanted to go back home and write her daily advice column, "Gotta Have Hope," in obscurity. But ... not happening. Amanda was delirious to have offered Maggie as her stand-in for this important interview with champion Quarter Horse rider, trainer, and ladies' man, Tru Monahan.
Maggie was a writer, not a reporter. She wasn't comfortable being in front of people—it brought back memories of the worst times of her life ... not only a time of shame and embarrassment but also a time when her life fell apart. But none of that mattered to anyone but her, and since the same conglomerate owned both the newspaper and the television station, Maggie hadn't been asked to do this. She'd been told.
Amanda sneezed. "The show asked for the interview to be done when there was no one else around. Small-town interviews tend to be harder when locals are involved. It's better for you this way." Amanda's hoarsely whispered words ended in another croaking cough.
"Amanda, you sound terrible." Sympathy won out over Maggie's nervous breakdown.
"I feel awful," Amanda wheezed. "I'm going to sleep now. You let those red heels do the walking and get in there, girlfriend. You can do this."
"But—," Maggie blurted, but the line had gone dead.
Maggie's hand tightened on the now useless lifeline to her friend.
She glared into the rearview mirror and cringed at her overdone blue eyeshadow. Her cheeks were too pink, too, and her lips sticky with gloss. Amanda had assured Maggie that for the camera she needed a little more color than was normal.
Clammy fingers of panic tightened around her windpipe. Maggie squeezed her eyes shut and counted to ten ... calm did not come. It was a wonder she hadn't broken out in hives or something on the two-hour-long drive over here.
"Gotta Have Hope" was a dream come true for Maggie and it was because of Amanda's recommendation that she even had the job. No one truly knew what a blessing the advice column had been for Maggie. A lifesaver, really. As Amanda had been to her when they'd first met several years earlier.
She owed Amanda ...
Even so, Maggie figured this gig was going to be the full sum of her debt owed. Yup, paid in full was getting stamped on that bill. Amanda was always looking out for her, but she didn't know about the fool Maggie had made of herself in her freshman year during the school play. Freezing up, then knocking down the entire set in her panic ...
Everyone laughing ...
And then the aftermath—a chill filled Maggie. What if she made a fool of herself in front of thousands of TV viewers?
"Stop," Maggie huffed, glaring at herself in the mirror. She was not that insecure kid anymore. Not the kid whose home life was so messed up that she could barely hide it from everyone her seventh grade year. The kid who'd tried to lose herself through acting as an escape from reality only to fall apart that night on stage. The clumsy kid who left the stage in tears only to arrive home to find police hauling her father away.
The night of that play, Maggie's life changed from bad to worse.
No, Maggie didn't do limelight well. It brought back far too many bad memories that she was still trying hard to wipe away. Maggie closed her eyes and inhaled slowly. She'd found out the hard way that she wasn't meant to be in the spotlight where there were things she couldn't control.
But none of that mattered because her bosses believed this would be good for her floundering advice column. They wanted her readers to see the person behind the column. Ha—they might discover that was a really bad idea when they saw her in front of that camera. She'd probably freeze up, throw up, or all of the above.
Stop. Just stop.
"Positive thinking here, Mags. You will do this and you will do this well."
Pulling from the well of determination that had gotten her out of that life and into the life she had now, Maggie opened the door of her baby blue Volkswagen Bug. Fear never got her anywhere.
June heat slammed into her along with the scent of something tasty roasting inside the awful building. Okay, so at least that was a positive sign. She reached across the seat and grabbed the red high heels—bought specifically for this interview. Amanda swore they'd give her courage and confidence. Carefully, she set them on the chunky, white rocks of the parking lot and then slipped her feet into them.
She might be a lot of things, but chicken wasn't one of them. Sure, she'd once been afraid but she'd learned to push through her fear. And that was exactly what she was going to do now.
She reached for her red leather folder—something else Amanda said worked for courage—slung her large purse over her shoulder and stood in a decisive movement of decision to give this her all. Her hand trembled as she smoothed her flowing skirt, but she ignored it, then slammed her car door and took a step toward the Bull Barn.
The rumble of a large engine had her glancing over her shoulder. A shiny, black four-wheel-drive truck whipped into the parking lot the same instant a whirlwind swept across the dusty ground. Maggie's skirt had been swishing gently about her knees, now it caught air and attempted to do the Marilyn-Monroe-thing and fly up over her head. Maggie let go of her folder and desperately grabbed for the dancing skirt.
She managed to clamp it down just in time but dropped her folder.
"No," she gasped as it hit the ground and the papers with Amanda's prewritten interview questions instantly swirled up into the whirlwind like birds freed from a cage. Fumbling to gather her skirt hem in one hand, she grasped at flying pages with the other. The white gravel Texans were partial to did not get along well with her heels. She knew she was making a ridiculous spectacle of herself wobbling and tottering as she watched her interview fly into oblivion.
She couldn't do the interview without Amanda's questions.
Her long blonde hair swept across her eyes just as a man's wide, tanned hand reached over her shoulder and plucked a page fluttering in front of her from the air.
"Got it," said a deep voice as its owner stepped past her and continued to snatch pages from the air one at a time with quick, coordinated movements.
Relief surged through Maggie as she watched the long-legged cowboy swoop the last one off the ground and turn toward her. The championship-size buckle at his hips gleamed in the sunlight in competition with the white smile slashing across his face.
Maggie's stomach nosedived straight to her toes.
Photos had failed to do Tru Monahan justice.
Beneath his black Stetson, the chocolate dark hair brushing his collar was richer looking, his jaw stronger, and his high cheekbones more prominent than they'd seemed on television or in the tabloids. And his eyes ... Maggie's breath caught when her eyes collided with his. Warm, deep, rich amber reminding her of maple syrup held up to the light. They were simply incredible—he was incredible.
Her ankles melted and she wobbled again when his lips shifted from the dazzling smile into the signature half grin that caused the skin around his eyes to crinkle enticingly. That expression enhanced a bunch of commercials and even appeared on a variety of equine products he endorsed.
That grin had won Tru Monahan a horde of female admirers across the country.
And Maggie was not immune. Her pulse went ballistic in response to all that dazzlement and the ground shifted—okay, so maybe that was her imagination, but she felt it nonetheless.
"I'll carry these for you," he said, tucking the folder beneath his arm, his expression relaxing as he focused his full attention on her. Which was a little overwhelming.
The wind fought her skirt, and her hair tickled her nose as Maggie swallowed the lump firmly situated in her windpipe. "Thank you," she croaked—she actually croaked—Oh, just shoot me now and be done with it. "I'm in a bit of a bind at the moment." Sometimes the truth was the only way to go.
His gaze drifted to her ironclad grip on her runaway skirt, which was still fighting for freedom.
"It would be my pleasure," he drawled, his grin twitching. "Can I help you?"
Maggie just stared at him like she'd never seen a goodlooking man before.
Her hair slapped her in the face—a much-needed wake-up call.
"N-no. I'm fine. Just fine," she gathered her skirt closer and smiled stiffly while sweeping her hair out of her face with her free hand. Forcing her shoulders back, she took a couple of steps toward the restaurant, teetering dangerously on her heels once more.
Tru walked slowly beside her, his black boots crunching the rocks that were in cahoots with her shoes to do her in. After a few treacherous steps, he touched her arm. "I don't want to get in your business, but I'm thinking maybe you should hold on to my arm before you go flying across this rock and skin'n up those pretty knees of yours."
Maggie halted, staring at him. His Texas drawl did funny things to her insides. Okay, so maybe she shouldn't have told Amanda that she thought Tru was the best-looking male on the planet, when her friend had first mentioned interviewing the cowboy. She'd made that statement back when Amanda was supposed to be doing the interview.
Maybe if she'd kept her mouth shut, Amanda might not have suggested Maggie substitute for her.
Tru crooked his arm in invitation and the warmth of his gaze radiated through her.
"I'd say no," she said, her voice annoyingly breathless. "But then I'd probably fall flat on my face, so thank you." She slipped her arm through his and wrapped her fingers around the corded muscle of his forearm.
She felt really ridiculous clinging to her interviewee as they headed toward the porch. The man smelled like leather and sunshine and something spicy that drew her like a hummingbird to sugar water. She had to fight the urge to lean in and inhale.
When they made it to the steps, she was thrilled. "Thank you for rescuing me. I was courting disaster out there." And now too.
"Always glad to help a lady in distress."
"If you're around me too long, you'll risk getting overworked."
His eyes twinkled. "I definitely might have more than I can handle where you're concerned."
She stumbled on the step—the cowboy was flirting with her.
Worse—Maggie choked on a gasp—he thought she was flirting with him.
"P-probably not," she assured him, stepping quickly away from him, happy to have the smooth wood porch beneath her feet and space between them. "I'm fairly boring on most days, quartz gravel and heels aside."
He grinned at her words and monster-size butterflies did loops behind her rib cage.
"I have a feeling that's not true." He held out the folder with the pages he'd stuck back inside. "These are yours, I believe."
"Thank you, again." Maggie's fingers grazed his as she took the folder and sparks tingled up her arm. Her cheeks burned. No doubt about it, she was the most unprofessional interviewer the Houston Tribune could ever have chosen for this assignment.
He pushed open the heavy door by the glass panes in the upper half. Fighting conflicting emotions, she brushed past him—being sure not to touch him. The delicious coffee-scented, cool air from the inside swept over her, soothing her heated skin.
Coffee—that's what she needed. A strong cup of courage.
Safely inside, she finally dared to let go of her skirt and it swayed gently just above her knees as she glanced around. She was relieved, for a moment at least, to have something other than Tru to focus on. The film crew was set up off to the side of the diner, busy checking equipment while waiting for Amanda to come in and take charge. Only Amanda wasn't here, and Maggie had absolutely no idea what to do. Hopefully someone else would be able to show her the way.
Tru moved to stand beside her. "Looks kind of vacant. Are you here for lunch? I think they're holding off opening 'til after that." He jerked his head slightly in the direction of the cameras, but said nothing about them interviewing him.
"Um, no," Maggie said, startled by his question, only then realizing he had no idea who she was. "I'm here for the interview."
"Oh. You're getting interviewed too? I am, but to be honest, I'd rather be home riding my horse."
A laugh bubbled from her. Of course he didn't know who she was. He was expecting Amanda, and everyone knew what she looked like. "As odd as it is to believe, I'm here to interview you, Mr. Monahan." She held out her hand and tried to look more professional than she felt. Tried to ignore the way her gaze kept wanting to stick to him like a stamp to an envelope. "Maggie Hope, filling in for Amanda Jones—she's ill, I'm sorry to say."
She lifted her chin, hoping to convey confidence. Of course there was an upside to the entire fiasco in the parking lot. She'd caught her skirt just in the nick of time. Otherwise, she'd have climbed back into her car and hit the road to Houston out of mortification.
At least at this point she could still look the cowboy in the eye.
* * *
Tru was losing his touch. He found himself staring into the spearmint-green eyes of the gorgeous blonde with the dimples—and a very nice set of legs. Normally he could pick a reporter out of a crowd at fifty feet—there was a certain aggression in their eyes.
Not vulnerability like he'd thought he'd seen in Maggie Hope's eyes. He'd never seen this one coming.
This woman had none of that, and in her own words, two left feet. She'd been a mess out there. A cute mess, but a mess nonetheless.
It was hard to believe a popular show would send a reporter who looked as unprepared as this woman did to tape an interview that would be viewed by thousands. Was it an act to get him off his guard? He didn't consider himself a big deal, but he had won the National Quarter Horse Finals again, and when you added in his unfortunate tabloid debacle, he knew he was news right now. As bad as he hated it.
And the station could send out whomever they wanted to do the interview.
"Hey, Tru." Big Shorty, the owner of the Bull Barn, approached from the back of the diner, sauntering over with a grin on his weathered face. An old cowboy himself, there was no mistaking the teasing light in his eyes. "Any later and you'd have missed your own interview."
Tru shook his hand. "I got held up for a moment." He glanced at Maggie. "Besides, there's no need getting here early for the setup. Wouldn't want them to think I had nothing better to do."
"We all know that ain't the case. Just like they asked, I got folks run off till eleven o'clock, but then they're gonna be bustin' in here to find out about the interview." He leaned in close. "Of course I got a couple who won't take no for an answer, and they're stuffed back there in the kitchen pretending they ain't here." He winked.
Excerpted from Betting on Hope by Debra Clopton. Copyright © 2015 Debra Clopton. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Hope and faith come in many different forms in Clopton’s contemporary cowboy romance set in the small town of Wishing Springs, Tex. Maggie Hope is a newspaper advice columnist from the city who’s way out of her depth interviewing cowboy and champion quarter horse rider Tru Monahan in his small hometown. In an attempt to hide her nervousness during the televised piece, Maggie comes up with a bet—more of a dare, really: that Tru can not only teach this city girl how to ride, but he can have her good enough to compete in two months. Can the pair of them see past their own good intentions to find the truth lying right in front of them Amusing secondary characters and an intriguing side plot mix with humor to balance an occasionally clichéd plot that is light on faith. Agent: Natasha Kern, Natasha Kern Literary Agency. (Feb.)
Clopton’s novel is filled with humor, romance and a great sense of reality. The writing is moving and masterful. Each character comes alive through her words. They are diverse but fun characters who depict real life.” – Romantic TimesRomantic Times
Advice columnist Maggie Hope needs to follow her own counsel and take a chance on life and love. Yet things have never come easy to the self-sabotaging Maggie. Her tendency to block out what she doesn't want to see becomes a major problem when she meets champion horse trainer Tru Monahan. Filling in for her friend and journalist, Amanda, Maggie interviews Tru and sparks fly both on-and-off camera. A casual bet that Tru can teach Maggie to ride a cutting horse leads to some surprising consequences. VERDICT Clopton ("Cowboys of Sunrise Ranch" series) introduces an engaging cast of characters who are warm, welcoming, and feel like family in this new romantic series launch. Although the plot is a bit formulaic, the finely drawn and sympathetic protagonists drive the story forward to its ultimately hopeful and rewarding conclusion. An appealing choice for readers of Janette Oke and Robin Lee Hatcher.