Author Charlie Richards
Now Available on Kindle Unlimited!
Trusting the Stallion's Pounding Hooves
A Shifter Novella
When a struggling rancher runs into something too crazy to believe, he's not certain if it will be his downfall or his salvation.
Austin Williams mourns his father’s passing even as he wishes he could cuss out the man. Upon reviewing their ranch’s books, he discovers money missing, missed payments, and plenty of debt. Other than a windfall, he’s uncertain how he and his grandfather can dig themselves out of the financial pit his father has created. Discovering where the missing money went helps them a little—new grazing land. His grandfather spotting the impressive cash prizes for winning one of the events at the annual Call of the Wild Rodeo gives Austin hope…if he can place. But ranch work doesn’t stop, and while attempting to catch a cow in need of medical attention, he takes a tumble from his gelding. Austin wakes to the sight of a naked man leaning over him, who claims to be Smokey Quartz, the wild stallion he’d seen at a distance while moving cattle. His attraction to the man is off the charts, and he wants to believe Smokey isn’t a product of his imagination, especially when he claims they’re soul mates. Except, Austin already has so much on his plate. Can Austin come to grips with his changing reality and accept Smokey’s offer for love and companionship while still figuring out how to save his home?
Excerpt - Trusting the Stallion's Pounding Hooves
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“I shouldn’t have turned the finances over to him.”
Hearing the pain filling the softly spoken words, Austin Williams lifted his head from his hands. Seeing his grandfather—Warren Williams—standing in the doorway, he mentally cursed himself. He’d thought he’d locked the door. Austin hadn’t wanted his grandfather—or anyone on the ranch—to see him struggling with balancing the books.
Austin forced a smile he didn’t feel as he beckoned his grandfather into the room. Rising from his position behind the massive oak desk that had been in his family for four generations, he indicated the comfortable leather sofa near the other end of the large study. On his own way there, Austin stopped at the sideboard and chose two crystal tumblers. He picked up the decanter and poured a couple of fingers of whiskey into each one.
Carrying them to where Warren waited on the sofa, Austin handed one over before settling on the other end.
Warren sighed deeply. “That bad, huh?” he asked, lifting his glass to indicate the alcohol within.
“I need a bad reason to have a nightcap with my grandfather?” Austin asked, trying to counter Warren’s claim, even though it was true. When the older man just scoffed, he decided to admit the truth. “I won’t sugar coat it.” Austin took a sip of his liquor, appreciating the burn as the liquid slid down his throat to warm his belly. “I’ve found receipts showing where Pops sold cows for cash, and I don’t know what he did with the money. He didn’t deposit it into an account anywhere.” Scowling into his drink, Austin added, “And if he stashed it somewhere around here, I can’t fathom where.”
“How many head?” Warren asked softly.
“Three hundred and fifty.”
Warren grimaced before taking a sip of his whiskey.
Austin nodded. “That was my response, too.”
At a cattle ranch, cows were their livelihood. For so many head to disappear without anything to show for it could be a bank-breaker. In this case, it would be, too. If Austin didn’t come up with some creative solutions for saving money, while making some at the same time, they would lose the ranch his great grandfather had started four generations ago from the ground up.
Austin took another sip of whiskey as he thought of his late father—Mitch Williams. He’d loved the man who’d raised him with all his heart—still did. Never had he seen the man anything but upbeat, positive, and hardworking. Austin had always believed his father could take on the world and win.
Then the cancer.
His father had begun having dizzy spells, which he’d hidden for a long time—over six months. Only a fall from his horse—and the animal had been standing still while his father had been discussing plans with their ranch hands—had revealed that all was not well with his health. When Austin had insisted he go to the hospital, they’d discovered the truth. His father had a tumor in his brain, and since he hadn’t had it diagnosed at the first sign of problems, there were nothing the doctors could do.
Not surprising, his father had refused any medication, saying there was no point since it wasn’t fixable. He’d continued to work the ranch until his body could no longer function. Then Austin and Warren had done their best to keep him comfortable in his final days.
Mitch Williams had died peacefully in his sleep ten days before.
After the funeral six days ago, Austin had started going through their ranch’s books. He realized he should have done that the minute Mitch had ended up on bed rest. At least that way, he could have asked his father some questions—like where the hell fifty-thousand dollars had ended up.
“How many head do we have on the ranch?” Warren asked, bringing Austin out of his thoughts.
Rubbing his palm over his face, Austin admitted, “At last count, only four hundred and eighty-two.” He wrapped both hands around his tumbler and rested his forearms on his thighs as he stared into the liquid. “Fortunately, over half of them are due in the spring, so we’re well on our way to replenishing our herd…if we can make it through the winter.”
“And our hay situation?” Warren brought up another issue.
Austin lifted his head and met his grandfather’s gaze. “We’ll have to buy at least three months’ worth at some point.”
“If we sell one of the bulls—”
Shaking his head, Austin cut his grandfather off by saying, “We only have two. We can’t sell a bull until we see what we get from next year’s calves.”
“And then it would still be a couple of years before they’d be old enough to use for reproduction anyway.” His grandfather laid out part of the problem.
“And do we have the funds to pay the hands all winter?”
Straightening, Austin lifted his hand in a so-so gesture. “All but two.”
Groaning, his grandfather took a sip of his whiskey. “And you already do too much around here.” His expression darkened. “I wish these old bones could still move as fast as I used to. I hate how hard you’re working. There’s no way you can pick up the slack of two hands.”
“I know,” Austin murmured. Reaching out, he squeezed his grandfather’s wrist, feeling the thin skin beneath his fingers. “There’s nothing we can do about aging. It happens to everyone.” The age spots on his grandfather’s flesh gave away his advancing years even more than the slow way the man moved anymore. Returning his hand to his tumbler, Austin offered, “We’re going to have to get creative is all.”
Warren nodded. “I’ll start thinkin’ then.” Then he smirked at him. “You could always hurry and marry someone rich.”
Austin chuckled, relieved to find something amusing. “You mean turn into a gold digger?”
Shrugging, Warren smiled.
“And where am I going to find a rich man willing to live way out here?” Austin swept his hand through the air, palm up, indicating their sprawling, two thousand acre ranch that felt sort of like a ghost town some days. How had he not noticed that some of the buildings were no longer full of cattle, horses, and action?
Too many hours riding fences during the day and not enough time in the yard.