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Authors: Karen Templeton

0373659458 (R)

A SECOND CHANCE IN THE SADDLE

All widowed veterinarian Zach Talbot wants is to raise his two boys in the peace and quiet of his New Mexico town. Who’d have thought that being roped into helping a woman choose a horse for her son would upend the single father’s whole world?

Except ex-actress and rodeo rider Mallory Keyes isn’t just any woman.

With its wide-open spaces and sky that goes on forever, Whispering Pines is the ideal temporary haven after the accident that changed Mallory’s life forever. Falling for the sexy, caring man who found the perfect palomino for her eleven-year-old wasn’t in her short-
or
long-term plans. Zach’s also determined to get Mallory back in the saddle. Can she return the favor by helping to heal the still-grieving vet’s heart?

“You know what I’d really like to do right now?”

“I can’t wait to hear this,” he said, and her eyes twinkled.

“It’s also been a while since a boy
kissed
me on a porch swing.”

“You don’t know what you’re asking, Mallory.”

“Actually, I do...oh.” She huffed a sigh then said, “And here’s where I should probably get off your lap and pretend like this never happened. If, you know, I could actually do that—”

“Oh, God, no, honey—” Zach grabbed her hand and pressed it to his chest. “That did not come out the way I meant it. Because trust me, I’ve been thinking about kissing you, too. For some time, actually.”

Her lips curved. “You don’t say.”

“God’s truth,” he said, and she chuckled, low in her throat. “But...it’s been a while since I’ve kissed a girl, too. On a porch swing or anyplace else. And I—”


Think far too much
, is how you want to finish that sentence,” she murmured, then curved her hands around his jaw and brought their mouths together.

And in that instant, he knew
kissing
her would never be enough.

* * *

WED IN THE WEST: New Mexico’s the perfect place to finally find true love!

Dear Reader,

One thing I love about novel writing is how often the seeds for a character or story come from totally unexpected sources. In this case, a Facebook friend who uses a wheelchair suggested I write a heroine similar to her. I immediately embraced the idea...only to discover how very much I had to learn. And still do. But the research was beyond rewarding. And I’m more grateful than I can say for the opportunity to grow, not only as a writer, but into hopefully a more empathetic human being.

The same could be said for Zach and Mallory, each of whom helps the other stretch and grow, too, embracing possibilities where they’d thought none existed...proving that amazing things can happen in small towns and to anyone willing to let them happen.

I love these people, and I hope you will, too.

Blessings,

Karen

Back in the Saddle

Karen Templeton

Karen Templeton
is a recent inductee into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. A three-time RITA® Award–winning author, she has written more than thirty novels for Harlequin. She lives in New Mexico with two hideously spoiled cats. She has raised five sons and lived to tell the tale, and she could not live without dark chocolate, mascara and Netflix.

Books by Karen Templeton

Harlequin Special Edition

Wed in the West

A Soldier’s Promise

Husband Under Construction

Adding Up to Marriage

Welcome Home, Cowboy

A Marriage-Minded Man

Reining in the Rancher

A Mother’s Wish

Jersey Boys

Meant-to-Be Mom

Santa’s Playbook

More Than She Expected

The Real Mr. Right

Summer Sisters

The Marriage Campaign

A Gift for All Seasons

The Doctor’s Do-Over

The Fortunes of Texas: Whirlwind Romance

Fortune’s Cinderella

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
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To Jewel Kats
Who planted the seed. Thanks, sweetie.

To Kari Lynn Dell
Who answered my horse/ranching/rodeo questions with her usual aplomb, good humor and patience. If I goofed, that’s my fault, not hers.

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Epilogue

Excerpt from
Fortune’s Secret Husband
by Karen Rose Smith

Chapter One

“S
o I gather you know a fair amount about horses?”

With an actual sigh, the getting-up-there Boston terrier slid down on the exam table in front of Zach Talbot and promptly went to sleep.
This might take a while, wake me when she’s done
.

She
being the auburn-haired Texan female of indeterminate age who’d brought the dog into Zach’s clinic three times in the two weeks since she—and her daughter, she’d mentioned more than once—had moved into the old Hufsteter place a ways out of town. Completely renovated, she’d said. Beautiful house. Reminded her of home.

Not that Zach minded chatter, as a general rule. At least it kept him from curling up in a ball inside his own head. However, since he’d yet to find anything really wrong with the little dog, other than a general slowing down due to old age, he was guessing Dorelle Keyes had ulterior motives. Motives that Zach strongly suspected had something to do with this hitherto unseen daughter.

One hooded doggy lid briefly fluttered open as if to say
You got it, buddy
, before drifting closed again, and Zach met Dorelle’s sharp—oh,
so
sharp—green gaze.

“As part of my practice, sure.” After gently rubbing the dog between the ears—which got a soft groan—Zach scribbled down a couple notes for Shantelle at the front desk to add to Edgar’s chart, then glanced back at Dorelle. Remembered to smile. “Why?”

“Oh. Well, Mallory—” the daughter “—is thinking about buying a horse for her boy. She’s...” Dorelle glanced around, then practically mouthed, “Divorced. And his daddy has custody at the moment—” Her red-lipsticked mouth slammed shut, as though she’d realized she’d gotten stuck in that narrow wedge between discretion and oversharing. “Anyway, when we noticed the stalls out back, that was the first thing we thought of, how much Landon might like to have a horse to ride when he’s here. So I was wondering if maybe you knew of someone local who might be selling. And you strike me as somebody we could trust.”

His mouth twitching, Zach adjusted his glasses. Although his own mother had always said he had one of those faces. However...

“Horses take a lot of work, ma’am—”

“And while I appreciate that your mama obviously taught you to respect your elders, trust me, no woman past a certain age actually likes to be
ma’amed
.”

“My apologies, m—Mrs. Keyes.”

“Apology accepted. And second... I know how much work horses take. Mallory’s daddy was a rancher. So we know what to do. We just don’t know who to see. Landon’s eleven, by the way. Far as I’m concerned he should’ve had his own horse long ago. But life had other ideas.”

Not for the first time, Zach got the feeling the woman was deliberately baiting him. As though she’d been given instructions not to blab about personal matters, but if someone asked...well. It would only be polite to answer, wouldn’t it? Too bad for her, then, that Zach was sorely lacking in the curiosity department.

Although his own full plate probably had something to do with that. Not to mention a deeply entrenched sense of self-preservation that kept most locals from developing anything even remotely like real relationships with the outsiders who flitted in and out of Whispering Pines. The town was no Taos or Santa Fe, heaven knew, but northern New Mexico’s clear, high desert air and pristine forests attracted its fair share of tourists and temporary residents. Especially during ski season, which was right around the corner. Granted, Zach could be as cordial to visitors as the next townie. Friendly, even. Especially since they often brought dogs, and he was the only vet in town. But get himself all tangled up in their lives?

Nope.

However, he smiled, focusing on the topic at hand. “Has your grandson said he’d like to ride?”

“Oh, my goodness, yes! He already has, actually. A few times out on a farm north of LA. Where we were living, you know.”

Clearly Zach’s cue—again—to ask what had brought them to Whispering Pines. Except he honestly didn’t care.

Heidi would’ve, though. Because his wife hadn’t known the meaning of
aloof
, embracing—often literally—everyone she saw as if they were best friends...

“Dr. Talbot? Is everything okay?”

With an actual jerk, Zach pulled his head out of his butt to meet Dorelle’s gaze again. “Yeah, sorry...” He cleared his throat. Smiled. “Actually, my brother Josh is the foreman up at the Vista Encantada Ranch nearby—”

“Oh, yes, we passed it the other day when we were out exploring. And your girl out front, she said your brother worked there. One of ’em, anyway.”

Shantelle was young yet. She’d learn. “The Vista breeds champion quarter horses—which wouldn’t be suitable for your needs—but from time to time they foster rescues, too. I seem to recall Josh saying something about an older gelding that’d been used to teach another rancher’s kids to ride. I haven’t seen the horse yet myself, but I’m sure you and your daughter would be welcome to go out and meet him.”

Dorelle lit up as if someone’d flipped a switch. “That sounds perfect—”

“Dad-deeee!”

“Liam! No!”

The groggy little dog scrambled to his feet as, at the doorway to the exam room, Zach’s older son grabbed his baby brother around his middle and yanked him back. “Sorry, Dad!” Jeremy grunted out around the redheaded, windmilling blur that was his three-year-old brother. “Grandma just dropped us off. Man, he’s
fast
.”

“So were you at that age,” Zach said, then squatted in front of the pair, ruffling the little one’s rust-colored curls. “I’m almost done, squirt. You wait outside with Jeremy, okay?”

But Liam threw himself so hard into Zach’s arms he nearly knocked him over. He had no idea why the boy was so clingy—certainly a lot more than his older brother had been—but his hugs never failed to overwhelm Zach, with love and fear, both.

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