First Chapter Excerpt: The Dance by Heather Slade
Dance with Me is the second book in the Cowboys of Crested Butte series. It tells the story of Billy Patterson and Renie Fairchild, who we met in Fall for Me, the series' first book. If I had to pick my favorite character in all the books I’ve written, Billy is in the top two or three.
He has that swagger that only a world champion saddle bronc rider, and all around hot, hunky, handsome cowboys possess. Renie Fairchild is not only his best friend, she's the girl next door, and Billy can't decide whether he wants to wring her neck or kiss her senseless.
I hope you enjoy reading this first chapter excerpt of Dance with Me as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Dance with Me - Cowboys of Crested Butte Book2
Wherever he was, Billy owned the air. It belonged to him, and he took it.
Last year saddle bronc rider Billy Patterson reached the pinnacle of success in his sport and had the championship buckle to prove it. He needed that flashy reminder this year, because now nothing seemed to be going right in his world.
He couldn’t manage an eight-second ride to save his life; the girl he’s wanted forever, his best friend Renie, is oblivious to how he feels about her; and her mother sold him a ranch that he was incapable of taking care of alone. But the worst of it was, with no anchor at the ranch other than her horse in his boarding stable, Renie was probably leaving too, if he couldn’t convince her to stay.
That becomes the least of Billy’s worries, however, when he suddenly becomes a single parent to a child he didn’t even know about. That complicates everything, but he can’t regret having the daughter he quickly falls in love with. The question was—did that mean the end of his chances with Renie?
At her age, asking her to become an instant mother would be selfish, even if she would entertain that absurd idea after her own mother was tied down around the same age. As much as Billy knew letting Renie go was the right thing to do, he also realized letting her go would mean allowing her to run right back into the arms of a man she didn’t belong with…and he didn’t think he could do that.
This is book can be read as a standalone with no cliffhanger.
FIRST CHAPTER EXCERPT
“Damn that Liv Fairchild,” he muttered. Billy slammed the barn door shut behind him, and stomped to the house. She wasn’t Liv Fairchild anymore, now she was Liv Rice, but that didn’t change how mad he was at her.
When she came to him and asked whether he wanted to buy her ranch, the answer was obvious. Of course he did. His family’s ranch bordered hers, and they’d wanted to buy this land since he was a boy. His family didn’t begrudge Liv’s—the Pattersons had been leasing grazing rights since they bought the place. And her house, well, it was one of the nicest houses he’d ever seen.
She named a fair price, and he certainly could afford it. It was the side deal she made with him that was the problem. Liv had been boarding horses for years, and she didn’t want to let the families down who counted on her, so she made Billy promise to keep the boarding stables open.
How he’d do that, was beyond him. He traveled as a saddle bronc rider on the rodeo circuit, and sometimes he was away for two or three weeks at a time.
He told Liv’s daughter, Renie, she could keep her horse there for as long as she wanted. She had four years of school to finish before she got her degree and became a large animal vet. He wouldn’t have asked her to move Pooh, the fourteen-year-old mare she’d had since she was ten. But taking care of her horse, along with all the others, wasn’t something he signed up for.
Liv told him to hire somebody. Plenty of ranch hands worked Patterson Ranch, his parents’ place, but he doubted a job this small would entice anyone.
He was almost years old, and this was the first time he had a place of his own. It wasn’t that he hadn’t wanted to before, he just hadn’t had any good reason. He was on the road so much, and when he was home, his parents’ place was big enough. His room was on the lowest floor of their tri-level house, and he had plenty of privacy, not that he’d ever taken advantage of it.
“You need to move out Billy,” Renie said to him. “You kinda seem like a loser, still living with your parents.”
He knocked her into the water trough when she’d said it. He thought that might teach her, pain in the ass that she was.
“You should hire Blythe,” she said, trying to help him come up with a solution for the stables.
“Blythe Cochran.” Paige and Mark Cochran were her mother’s best friends. She and Blythe had been friends since they were five years old.
“Why would I hire her?”
“Because she’s home. She quit school and doesn’t have anything to do.”
That didn’t sound like the best reason he’d ever heard to hire somebody. The fact that she quit school didn’t fill him with confidence, either. The last thing he needed was to get a phone call while he was out on the road, telling him she was quitting. What the hell would he do then?
“Why’d she quit?”
“She decided she didn’t want to be a nurse. You shouldn’t look down your nose at her Billy. I quit school too.”
“You did? Since when?”
“I quit Dartmouth.”
“You transferred, you didn’t quit.”
“I quit the medical program.”
“You changed your major to vet medicine, because you decided you’d make a crappy people doc. That isn’t quitting, Renie.”
“Since when are you such an expert on college?”
Billy shook his head. He might not know a lot about college, but he did know a lot about her.
Renie switched fields from biomedical to veterinary medicine last year, in her junior year, and had transferred to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, a two-hour drive from the ranch. He told her she could stay at the house as much as she wanted. It was the house she grew up in, and with him away so often, they’d almost never see each other.
“What about when you bring girls home?” she asked.
That elicited another “loser” comment out of her. He supposed she was right. Plenty of girls would be happy to come home with him, even if only for a night. He wasn’t bragging, it was the nature of being a bronc rider, saddle, or otherwise. Having a one-night stand on the road was one thing—it was different at home.
“You’re a hot guy, Billy.”
“What? God, Renie, you can’t say that to me.”
“What? It’s not like I’m interested.”
“Jeez, what’s wrong with you?”
“I don’t see what the issue is, but let’s get back to the original subject—you should hire Blythe.”
“She know how to take care of horses?”
Renie was at least five times as infuriating as any woman Billy’d ever met. “Why would I hire somebody who doesn’t have experience with horses?”
“Because she needs the job Billy, and she’ll learn. In fact, I’ll teach her.”
Renie grabbed his arm.
Whoa, what the hell? It was as though a bolt of lightning hit him, and the current surged through his veins. It almost knocked him on his ass.
“Please,” she said, in that soft tone she used sometimes when she tried to get her way. It used to make him laugh, and he’d tell her he saw right through her. Today, he had a different reaction. Today, he’d be willing to do anything Renie Fairchild wanted him to.
“What?” she asked.
“Nothing.” Billy didn’t know what in God’s name was going on, but he knew he needed to get away from Renie, right now. “Listen, I gotta go into town.”
“Where are you headed? I’m not doing anything. I’ll go with you.”
“No. Not tonight. I’ve…um…got a date.”
“You do? With one of these girls you don’t plan to bring home?”
She was killing him. She didn’t appear as affected by the touch as he had been.
“Whatever, Renie. Mind your own damn business.”
Renie watched Billy stomp away from her. She spent a lot of time watching him walk away. She’d been in love with Billy Patterson her whole life. No one, not a single living person, knew how she felt about him. The only one she ever talked to about him was her horse, which was stabled in the barn Billy now owned.
It didn’t seem as though much had changed at the ranch since Billy bought it. In fact, her mom left most of the furniture in the house when she sold it. She and her new husband, Ben, hadn’t needed it at his place in Crested Butte.
With Billy home infrequently, most of the house looked exactly the same as it always had. The master bedroom was the one room Renie was sure was different. She hadn’t set foot in it though. It was almost as though the bedroom was the only place in the house Billy lived. It seemed wrong to invade his space.
When her mom decided to sell, she asked Renie first if she wanted to keep it, live there herself, but Renie told her to sell it to Billy. With four years of school still ahead of her, she didn’t have time to take on the ranch.
She thought a lot about whether she’d regret her decision later, after she graduated and started a practice. Even then, she knew she wouldn’t be able to live the rest of her life next door to the Patterson family. The heartache of seeing Billy come to visit his parents with the wife he would he eventually marry, and the children they would eventually have, was more than she’d be able to handle. You didn’t love someone the way she loved Billy and ever truly move on from it.
Something didn’t feel right between them tonight. It seemed as though Billy was mad at her.
She’d planned to stay here for the weekend, ride Pooh, and study. Maybe she was making too much of it, but if he really did have a date, she didn’t want to be here.
Can I still stay this weekend? She texted him.
He answered within seconds. Of course.
Thanks. See you tomorrow.
* * *
William Prescott Patterson, Jr. was eleven years older than Irene Louise Fairchild. Her first memory of him was when she was ten, right after her grandfather died, and she got Pooh. Renie and her mom were out riding in the meadow. It was wide open, and a great place to let the horses run. Billy waved them over.
“Who’s this, Renie?” he rubbed the horse’s nose.
“This is Pooh,” she said proudly. “She’s mine.”
“Great name,” he answered as he slowly walked around her, running his hand over the horse’s body. “She’s solid. You pick her out yourself?”
“Mom helped.” Obviously Billy didn’t think Pooh was a boy’s name, like her mom did.
“‘Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.’ You hear that before, Renie? Remember that. Talk to her, but listen too. Will you do that?”
He must be a very good bronc rider if he knew how to listen to horses, she thought at the time. From that day on, Renie spent as much time listening to Pooh as she did talking to her.
* * *
She must’ve read the same page over at least twenty times when she put the book down and turned off the light. Billy either wasn’t coming home tonight, or he planned to get back late enough that she’d already be asleep.
Whatever happened between them tonight, made him stay away. Where had he gone, and who was he with? She had to stop thinking about it too much or she wouldn’t get any sleep at all.
Telling Renie to stay at the house had to have been the stupidest thing he’d ever done. On the other hand, he loved having her there. Hell, he couldn’t make up his damn mind what he thought about it.
When she touched him today, he wanted to pull her into his arms and kiss her. Since then it was the only thing he thought about. But, it was more than that. His mind drifted to the other things he wanted to do to Renie Fairchild. He tried to shake it out of his head. Thinking about kissing her was bad enough. More than that, it was…incestuous—or something.
It might have been a fluke. He’d see her tomorrow, and it would be as though nothing happened today. If it were that simple, he’d be inside his house, not sitting outside in his truck.
He told her he had a date. It was a lie, but at that moment, he had to leave, and the last thing he wanted was to take her with him.
He went to the brewery first, then next door to the movie theater, and then he went to the bowling alley. All in all, he’d killed about four hours. He drove around for another hour, wasting gas until he decided he was being ridiculous.
Once he got home, he put off going inside. He’d been sitting outside in his truck for twenty minutes, and it was damn cold. It was January after all, and Monument, sitting at seven-thousand feet elevation, was colder on average than the surrounding towns and cities.
“Ah, to hell with it.” He got out of the truck and went in the back door of the house. One light remained on, in the kitchen. Renie told him she and her mother left that light on whenever someone would be getting home late. He decided it worked for him, too. He liked it. It made him feel as though somebody waited for him. He left it on even when he was at the house alone.
Renie was gone the next morning when he got out of bed. It wasn’t unusual for her. She was always running off somewhere, meeting up with that friend of hers.
Blythe. That reminded him, he needed to hire somebody to take care of the boarding stables.
He drove to his parents’ place and talked to his dad, William Prescott Patterson, Sr., whom everybody called Bill. His mom, Dottie, was like a grandmother to Renie. Which meant Billy was practically Renie’s uncle, and for the last twelve hours he’d been fantasizing about what it would be like to kiss his niece. Yep, he was fucked up all right.
His dad recommended the same man who ran the stables for Liv last year, after an accident kept her away from the ranch for a couple of months. Steve Sookan was his name, but everyone called him Sookie. One of their more reliable hands, he’d worked for the Pattersons for a several years.
“You gonna let him stay in the house, Billy? That way he doesn’t have to come up from the bunkhouse,” his dad suggested.
“Why is he living in the bunkhouse?” Typically it was only used during busy times of the year, like calving season.
“Divorce. He’s trying to get back on his feet.”
Billy thought about it for a minute. “I’m not sure, Dad.”
He didn’t want to tell his dad the real reason he didn’t want Sookie staying at the house, but he couldn’t come up with another reason off the top of his head.
“I guess it would be okay, but I told Renie she could stay at the house if she wanted to come down and see Pooh on the weekends.”
“Sookie’s harmless, but I would understand if Renie felt uncomfortable staying there alone with him.”
Sookie’s reputation with the ladies was the main reason he’d gotten a divorce. Billy didn’t want Renie within a hundred feet of the man.
* * *
“What did he say?”
“It doesn’t look good, Blythe. He said he didn’t want to hire someone who doesn’t have any experience with horses.”
“I don’t care that much about the job. What did he say when you mentioned me?”
“He didn’t say anything, Blythe. Oh, and he had a date last night. It might be somebody he’s serious about.”
“Serious? Billy Patterson is serious about someone? That I’d like to see. I’m not talking about forever, Renie. I only want to have some fun. I mean, God, just the thought of him…” Blythe swooned, rolled her eyes back in her head, and made a noise that sounded like an elk during mating season. Renie thought she might be sick to her stomach.
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up.”
“Let’s hang out at your house tonight.”
“I told you not to get your hopes up. And, it isn’t my house anymore.”
“He won’t care if you invite me over.”
Renie told Blythe that she had a midterm she had to study for that night, which was the truth. Not the whole truth, but enough of it.
“What about Sunday? I’ll come over for breakfast.”
If Blythe Cochran didn’t let this go, Renie would kill her.
* * *
Billy hadn’t texted Renie all morning. Before yesterday, he hadn’t thought about how often they texted each other. But now that he thought about it, he sent her texts all the time. He told her everything; important stuff, trivial stuff, and jokes. He even said good morning and goodnight to her almost every day. Except today. He hadn’t said good morning to her today, he realized as he scrolled back through his texts to her.
What r u doin?
When will u b back?
Typical Renie. Couldn’t she just answer the damn question?
Because I’m asking.
Planning on bringing a girl home tonight?
He’d never known anyone better at answering a question with a question than Renie Fairchild. Maybe he wouldn’t answer her, let her stew for a bit. Or he’d answer yes. But, if he did that, she wouldn’t come back to the house, she’d stay at Blythe’s, or go back up to school. He didn’t want that. More than anything he wanted to hang out with her as though everything was normal between them.
Answer the question.
Wanna have dinner with me?
It was one of those relationships. You see them all the time. The girl in love with the hot guy who didn’t realize she was alive. She’d do anything to be with him, and he took her for granted. The girl would never tell the guy she was interested in him because then he’d be uncomfortable and stop hanging out with her. That described her and Billy perfectly.
She parked near the barn, and went in to see Pooh before going in the house. She had things she needed to talk over with her horse before she saw Billy again.
MORE IN THE SERIES
Fall for Me - Cowboys of Crested Butte Book 1
My books are filled with things that bring me joy: music, wine, skiing, families, artists, and cowboys. Not always in that order.
I’m an Amazon best-selling author, and a PAN member of Romance Writers of America. I speak, teach, blog, am an executive sommelier, and all-around entrepreneur.
I grew up an east coast girl, and then spent half my life on the west coast. Now my husband, our two boys, and I happily call Colorado home.