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cowboylessons

Harlequin American Romance
September 2003
Cowboy Series

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Love On The Lazy Y?

She'd sooner sleep with a snake! Yet Amanda Johnson had no choice but to do business with barracuda Scott Beringer. This millionaire wanted to go from computer wizard to prime cowboy material, and he had Amanda hanging by the ankles - well, he had the deed to her beloved ranch. All he wanted were cowboy lessons, and he'd sell her back the family homestead.

It seemed like a simple exchange, but teaching Scott "the ropes" had Amanda in a tizzy. For a while he might not know how to lasso a steer, Scott was running circles around Amanda's carefully guarded emotions, stirring up her true passionate nature and making the cowgirl wish she could teach Scott some "groom" lessons...ASAP!

reviews

"Fans of contemporary ranch romances will enjoy the amusing lighthearted romp COWBOY LESSONS. The story line is similar to many sub-genre tales, but what makes it fun to read is the cast. The lead couple is a delightful pair struggling between an attraction and a dispute. Her father's feelings are inductively loud and clear when he sells a horse to the greenhorn that he calls "Buttercup" whose real name is Rocket. It is this subtle way of displaying the emotions of the characters that makes Pamela Britton's tale a fine reading experience." - The Best Reviews, Harriet Klausner

"Scott Beringer was finally getting to live his dream. By paying off back taxes on a foreclosed ranch, the billionaire businessman was getting the home he had always wanted. The ranch, however, comes with a headstrong woman who feels nothing but anger toward the man who has taken her family home. Amanda Johnson will do anything to reclaim ownership, even spend time giving Scott COWBOY LESSONS (4), with his promise that if ranch life doesn't suit him, he'll sell it to her. But spending time with Scott proves more enjoyable than she ever could have imagined. Pamela Britton's engaging, well-defined characters blend with her storytelling skills for a winning combination." -RT Bookclub

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excerpt

There were three truths in life, Scott Beringer decided. One, it didn't matter how wealthy or how famous you became, once a geek always a geek.

Two, most geeks weren't very athletic.

Three, said computer geeks without said athletic ability had no business trying to ride a horse.

The last he knew from personal experience because as sure as he could debug a software program, he was about to fall off the horse he rode. That horse, a beast whose red hair should have given Scott his first inkling as to what kind of ride to expect, gave him a look of half disgust, half delight to find an omnipotent human being hanging half on, half off his left side. Scott tried to cling, he truly did. But no amount of butt clenching or leg flexing could save him. He had a brief thought as the ground approached from way up on high.

This is going to hurt.

It did.

Every bone in his body reverberated when he hit. Like a Saturday morning cartoon character, he lay there, smooshed into the ground. Puffs of dirt drifted up on a warm breeze. A fly buzzed his face as if shocked to see him there. Through the white-washed boards of the arena, he could see the face of the grizzled old cowboy who'd put him up on the horse.

He was doubled over. "Crimeny," the old coot said, slapping his knee with laughter. "Did you see that? He looked like one of them rodeo trick riders."

Someone next to him nodded, Scott wasn't sure who.

"I reckon he's OK, though. Seems he's moving."

Scott--the human catapult--only groaned. He felt like a gnat who'd hit a front bumper at 100MPH. Sure, he was able to reach up and straighten his thick-framed black glasses that had miraculously stuck to his head throughout the whole ordeal, but he'd be surprised if the eyes beneath those glasses weren't bulged.

A face loomed over him.

He opened his mouth, realized the wind was still knocked out of him, and gave up the idea of trying to greet the person, but, man, was she something.

Reddish-blonde hair nearly the exact same color as the mane of the horse he'd fallen off of hung around her face in spunky little ringlets. Wide, generous lips frowned down at him. And her eyes... They were the color of his computer monitor, a shade of blue he'd only ever seen created artificially. Those eyes stared down at him with concern and something else he couldn't quite identify.

"Mr. Berginger," she said. "If it's your intention to kill yourself here on the Lazy Y Ranch, you should let us know. It's easier to fit you with a body bag when you're alive."

Ah, a comedian.

He opened his mouth again, realized he still didn't have his breath back, and closed it.

"Are you hurt?" she asked, the look in her eyes turning to one of concern.

"No," he managed to gasp at last. "I'm fine," he added, because, hey, she was easily the prettiest woman he'd set eyes on in a long, long time and he'd be damned if he acted less than a man in front of her. What was it jocks said? Shake it off.

C'mon, Beringer, shake it off.

"Can you move?"

"Not if I don't have to."

"Here. Let me help you up." She held out a hand, and it was either a trick of the light, or the light blue denim shirt she wore made those eyes of hers look almost green now. Wow. Long legs encased in jeans completed the picture. And cowboy boots that had definitely seen better days. He should know because he had a bird's eye view of those boots. They were right by his left eye.

"You sure I should move?" he found himself asking because, hey, he watched ER and he knew you shouldn't move an accident victim.

She frowned. "Are you hurt that bad?"

"Only my pride."

"Can you move your legs and arms?"

"Do you have puppet strings 'cause I think that's the only way they'll work."

She immediately looked concerned again.

"Kidding. Kidding," he gasped, gasped because he tried to sit up to show her that he was a real man who could shake off a fall from a horse with a Tim Allen, "Ooo ooo ooo," and that he had faith in her if she thought he looked OK enough to move.

"Here." She offered her hand again.

He took it this time, everything within him stilling as his own large hand encased her slender fingers. He'd never thought of himself as having particularly large hands before, but he felt down right caveman-ish as he clasped hers.

"You OK?" she asked, spoiling the fantasy he'd had of dragging her off by the hair and out behind the barn, which only proved that he must have crowned himself harder than he thought because he never had Mongoloid Man thoughts about women he'd only just met.

He managed to sit up, put on his best game face, and say, "I'm fine."

She tugged on his hand again, urging him to stand, which he did, reluctantly, the brand new jeans and red and white-checkered shirt he wore coated in dirt.

"Are you sure you're all right?" she asked.

He kind of liked her concern for his well being. Frankly, it made him understand why cowboys did such stupid things like strap themselves to bulls and jump off horses mid-gallop. The sympathy factor obviously really worked. "Yeah. I’m fine."

She studied him a second longer, her wide mouth pressing into a thin line, her blue eyes narrowing just a tad before she said, "Good, then leave."

He thought he'd misheard her, even shook his head a bit to dispel the arena dust that must have plugged his ear canal. "I beg your pardon?"

"I said leave the ranch, Mr. Beringer."

The horse had stopped near the opposite end of the arena, Scott noticed, the man who'd mounted him on the beast--the former owner of the ranch--having caught the bronc. Obviously, the person who'd been standing next to him earlier had been her. Terrific. She'd seen his cannonball.

The woman with angry eyes crossed her arms, Scott aware for the first time that she was tall. She had to be if she was shoulder level to his six-foot-three frame. "Leave," she repeated. "You low down, dirty thief."

Thief? Uh oh. Obviously she'd heard about the change of ownership to the ranch. "I didn't steal it."

"Not technically, but close enough."

"Buying property by paying the delinquent back taxes is perfectly legal."

"Legal, yes. Ethical, no. In my mind it's like foreclosing on a mortgage."

Well, put that way he could kind of see her point. Kind of.

"You stole my father's land," she said, lifting her hand and pushing her index finger into his chest. She looked momentarily startled to find that it wasn't soft flesh. Hah. Gym. Four days a week.

"And I aim to get it back," she finished up, flexing the finger she'd poked him with as if she'd hurt it.

Her father? "Look, it's not like I'm going to force him from his house. As I told him earlier, I want him to stay on."

She snorted, crossing her arms in front of her, that pretty hair of hers flicked over one shoulder angrily. "You couldn't force him out if you wanted to."

He almost pointed out to her that he really could, if he wanted to. But the fact of the matter was, he didn't. He'd acquired their ranch because of the investment value, but as he stared around him, he realized he truly liked the place. The two-story farmhouse looked charming with its wrap around porch. An ancient looking barn turned a dusky gray stood not far from the arena, multiple cross-fenced pastures stretching out behind it. It was hard to believe they were less than an hour from the heart of California's Silicon Valley, San Francisco’s east bay right over the hill, and yet here they were.

"And another thing," she added, as if the laundry list she'd pronounced wasn't enough. "You have no business riding a horse that isn't yours."

"But it is mine."

"You lying--" She struggled not to cuss. He could see that. "That horse belongs to my father."

"And I bought it from him."

"You what?"

For just a second Scott found himself studying her. Anger set her whole face aglow. Her ears were tipped in red. A spot on her brow, right above her nose wrinkled delightfully. Even her small little nose looked adorably red.

"Your dad sold it to me."

"My dad--" She looked momentarily speechless. "My dad sold you Rocket?"

Now it was Scott's turn to be surprised. "Is that his name?"

She nodded.

A new respect for the grizzled old cowboy who'd suckered him for two thousand dollars filled Scott. "He told me it was Buttercup."

She snorted again.

And then a new thought penetrated Scott's mind. "I could have been killed."

She gave him a look of mock sympathy. "I doubt you'd have been mourned for too long."

"Thanks," he said. Well, he supposed he couldn't blame her for being snippy. But still... He really had saved her father from being evicted because he knew for a fact someone else had been right behind him ready to pay the tax bill. Literally. The guy had been at the window with him. But he decided not to argue the point.

"I really don't intend to turn your father out."

She didn't look in least bit grateful for his intervention. As a matter of fact, she looked like that model he'd dated, right after he'd told her he thought she looked cute now that she'd gained some weight. (Well, she had.)

"You don't intend to turn him out," she said, shifting her weight onto one foot in a hip jutting motion that Scott couldn't help but notice was really sexy. "Well, gee, Mr. Beringer, thanks ever so much. Considering this ranch has been in my family for three generations, that's very kind of you."

"Kindness is my middle name."

He'd been trying to make a joke. She didn't take it that way.

"Get out," she gritted through teeth clenched like Mr. Howell from Gilligan's Island. "Forget about the horse. I'll have my father mail you your money back."

"I can't do that."

"Why not?"

"Because it's kind of hard to be a cowboy without a horse."

###

Amanda thought she'd misheard him. Frankly, she must have had the same expression on her face as he'd had when she'd told him to get off her father's land.

No, his land.

She fought back a hiss of anger. Why the heck her father had waited until today to tell her about the tax lien, she had no idea, but it was hard to say who she was more angry with: Her father for not sharing the trouble the ranch was in, or Mr. Scott Beringer, Wall Street billionaire.

Oh, yeah, she knew who he was. She'd recognized him the moment she'd seen him at her feet. Her father's robber baron was none other than the reclusive boy wonder of the software industry.

"What do you mean 'be a cowboy?"

He smiled in a friendly sort of way, not that she had any intention of being that. "I want to learn to be a cowboy. Well, a rancher, really."

She digested the words for a second while she tried to come to grips with the fact that he really must be the nut case the press made him out to be. A formidable nut case, she reminded herself. Someone who did whatever it took to get what he wanted, at least if the newspapers were to be believed. But it was obviously true because look how he'd acquired their land.

"Mr. Beringer, I think you've been inhaling too many silicon fumes."

He shrugged. Puffs of dust rose from his dirty red and white checkered shirt. He looked ridiculous. Like a cross between Gene Autry and Buddy Holiday with those thick frame black glasses and wide silver eyes. And yet...cute.

Ack. Where the heck had that thought come from?

"Why not? Maybe I need to take life a little less seriously. Stop and smell the roses, if you will. Or the manure as the case may be."

"So you looked around for a ranch to steal?"

"I didn't steal it. And, no, that's not why I did it. Frankly, it wasn't until this very moment that I realized I have a hankering to learn to ride the range."

"Ride the range?"

"Sure. Herd cattle. Cook over a campfire. That sort of thing."

"That sort of thing," she repeated because she really couldn't believe what she was hearing. ""You think it's that easy?" She snapped her fingers to illustrate. "Have you any idea how much work a ranch is?"

"So, then, if it doesn't work out, I'll sell the land back to you."

For the second time, Amanda felt speechless. "You'll do what?"

"Sell it back to you."

"Mr. Beringer--"

"Scott," he insisted.

Scott seemed like the wrong name for him. Hitler. Attilla. Genghis, those seemed more appropriate.

"Scott," she said mildly, even though inside she felt as if she'd woken up in the middle of a Saturday Night Live skit. "My father is old. And he's been ill lately. Certainly not well enough to teach you the ropes."

"Then you teach me."

"Oh, no. No. No. No." She waved her hands and shook her head, that mane of hair of hers bouncing around her shoulders.

"Sure, why not? I leave for Singapore tomorrow. We can start my horse lessons when I get back in a week."

"Horse lessons?"

"Yeah. I'll need to learn to ride my new horse."

He really must be insane.

And yet, what if he were serious? What if he really would give her the opportunity to buy the ranch back? Could she pass that up?

"No. I can't do it." And she wouldn't, no matter how tempting Beezelbub's offer. "I have a busy life, Mr. Beringer, and I don't have time to baby-sit." Although with the ranch gone, maybe she would.

"But I promise to be a good baby. No crying. No whining. And most importantly, no dirty diapers." He smiled a Jack-O-Lantern grin.

But Amanda was impervious to his charms. "No."

He looked disappointed. He really did. "Well," he said, pulling a business card from his shirt pocket as if he'd expected to run into a fellow Wall Streeter out here. Unbelievable. "If you change your mind, let me know."

She almost didn't take the card. Almost, but he waved it in front of her in a way that'd make it rude if she didn't. Besides, her father had always taught her to be polite. He was the new owner. She should be nice to him.

New owner.

Her hand clenched around the card, twisting the paper into an L.

He must have seen it because she thought she saw his face loose some of its spark. Well, too bad. She'd find another way to get the place back, that she vowed. She crossed her arms in front of her, telling him with her eyes that he should just leave.

They stared at each other for a full ten more seconds before he finally said. "OK. Well, then. I guess I'll be going."

"OK, well then, see you later."

"OK, bye."

But he still didn't leave right away. Instead he looked at her kind of strangely. Like he was memorizing her or something.

"Have a nice day,” he said.

Have a nice day? Was he playing a scene from Leave it to Beaver?

She watched him turn and walk away.

Scott Beringer wanted to be a cowboy.

She should teach him how to be one. And make sure he hated every moment of it.

He climbed into a brand new Mercedes the looks of which cost more than all the back taxes he must have paid. The thought depressed her. How could they possible hope to pay the man back?

"What'd he say?"

Amanda turned to her father, a man nearly as tall as she was but who seemed to be shrinking daily. His blue eyes had gone rheumy in recent years, but they were still bright. Beneath a cap of gray hair his face looked red, though whether with drink or disappointment, she couldn't say. "He said you have a week to get out."

"He what?" he asked, straightening his stooped frame, a belly he'd had since before she could remember hanging over a tarnished belt buckle he'd won back in his rodeo days.

"Kidding, Dad. But it'd serve you right if he did."

Her father squinted his eyes at the departing car, his hands hooking into his leather belt. "He's younger than I thought he'd be."

"He wants cowboy lessons."

"Cowboy lessons?"

She eyed the man she loved more than any person on Earth. Her only family, and yet a man who'd managed to disappoint her more times in life than she cared to admit. She added today's fiasco to the list. "Yeah. Ranching lessons. Horse lessons. The whole bit."

"Are you going to teach him?"

"I told him to find someone else."

He blinked gray lashes, still staring at the car. "Hmph. I wondered why he wanted to buy that horse."

"That horse could have killed him."

"Nah. He was safer than a tick on a deer."

She shook her head in disgust. She almost left it at that, experience told her that trying to make her dad accept responsibility for anything was a task best left alone. But she couldn't keep quiet.

"You should have told me what was going on, Dad."

"I never wanted this life for you, Amanda," he said, still not meeting her gaze. "You know that. It's why I sent you to that fancy college."

Fancy, in her dad's opinion, was anything away from the small town they lived in. Los Molina was fifty minutes from the Bay Area, but you'd never know it. Nestled in a small valley, the town enjoyed mild winters and cool summers. Perfect ranching country with rolling green hills and shady oaks.

"Dad, I happen to like this life."

"I think you could do better. Heck, I didn't let you go off to Cal Poly and get a degree in business agriculture so you could come home and use it."

"But I want to use that knowledge." Even though that hadn't always been the case. When she'd first realized she'd need to come home because of her father's failing health, she'd been bitterly disappointed. She'd wanted to use her degree to find her dream job: breeding horses. Instead she'd been forced to come back home. But that was ancient history. She'd learned to love this place in the ensuing years.

"It's a hundred-thousand dollars."

"What?"

"You asked me earlier how much I owed. One-hundred-thousand dollars."

She just about fell over. Lord, how the heck was she going to get the place back?

I want to learn to be a cowboy. The words bounced off the inside of her head as if she were in a drum. But she couldn't do it. She just couldn't.

Could she?

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