In Lost Rider, the first Western romance in New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Harper Sloan’s Coming Home series, an injured rodeo star encounters an old flame but will she be just what he needs to get back in the saddle? Maverick Austin Davis is forced to return home after a ten-year career as a rodeo star. After one too many head injuries, he’s off the circuit and in the horse farming business, something he’s never taken much of a shine to, but now that it’s his late father’s legacy, familial duty calls. How will Maverick find his way after the only dream he ever had for himself is over? Enter Leighton Elizabeth James, an ugly duckling turned beauty from Maverick’s childhood—his younger sister’s best friend, to be exact, and someone whose heart he stomped all over when she confessed her crush to him ten years back. Now Leighton is back in Maverick’s life, no longer the insecure, love-stricken teen—and Maverick can’t help but take notice. Sparks fly between them, but will Leighton be able to open her heart to the one man who broke it all those years ago? Written in the vein of Diana Palmer and Lindsay McKenna, this Texas-set series is filled with sizzle, heart, and plenty of cowboys!
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I should tell Quinn and Clay that he’s here. But one look at him and it’s like the last ten years have never passed and I’m back at the bonfire, the awkward high schooler uncomfortable in her own skin. Marching away from him in the woods. It was the last time I saw him. How is it possible that he can affect me this much after all this time?
He hasn’t noticed me, not with his head bowed, so I quickly turn around and focus on Pastor John as he finishes up his prayer. Him being here means nothing. I should be happy that I remember the pain from that night so well, it will make keeping my walls up around him so much easier.
“On behalf of the Davis family, I want to thank everyone for coming today. At this time, the family has asked for some time alone as they say their good-byes. They wanted me to remind everyone that the PieHole will be opening up for a few hours tonight starting at five for anyone that wishes to join them.”
I keep my arm around Quinn, not looking back to where I saw Maverick. I can hear the church slowly emptying and I feel a frown pull at my lips. I had hoped that when everyone started to leave that he would have come up front to be with his family, but so far, the pew we’re in is still empty save for the three of us. We sit and wait for everyone to leave, something that Clay had asked Pastor John to make arrangements for in place of the customary recessional, knowing that no one in this town would really mean a word of it anyway. Plus, I know Quinn is having a hard time. Regardless of the fact that she wasn’t the closest with her father, she was really counting on this—Maverick home. She’s still shaking in my arms, but when I look over at Clay I realize his silence isn’t because of the heaviness of Buford’s death, but instead anger over his brother’s absence that has started to build to a boil. I fear that he’s seconds away from tipping over the edge.
I stand when Clay and Quinn do, but hang back at the edge of the row we had been sitting in as they meet Pastor John and gather their father’s ashes. I can’t wait to get out of these heels. If it would have been acceptable to wear my boots, I would have, but Quinn would have killed me. As it is, I feel like I can’t take a deep breath with how tight my dress is against my chest. I never wear tight shirts. I haven’t since my boobs became beasts of their own right. I’m too busy fiddling with the straps of my dress, trying desperately to get some of the pressure against my chest to ease up so I could take a deep breath, when I heard Quinn gasp.
“Mav!” Next thing I know she’s running past where I’m standing, her black hair streaming in the air behind her as she speeds forward right into her brother’s arms. Clay moves to stand next to me and I look up to meet his green eyes, the questions he isn’t vocalizing dancing in their emerald depths. He’s not stupid and I’m doing a crappy job at hiding the memories haunting me right now. He gives me a small smile, shifting his hold on the urn to wrap his free arm around me and pulls me into a strong hold.
“You’re shakin’,” he says against my temple and I just nod.
“I’m good, Clay. Go see your brother.”
“I’m fine right where I am, sugar.”
I keep my eyes to the ground, focusing on his worn boots instead of looking up, hating myself for making this moment about me when I should be focused on them. Like it or not, I can’t fight the feelings that being near him bring me. I’m that stupid, naive sixteen-year-old all over again. “Let’s get out of here,” he says after a few silent seconds. I look up and give him a smile, hoping that it looks a hell of a lot braver than I feel. Inside I feel like I might puke.
“You think I could have a second with my family?”
My head shoots up at the coldness I hadn’t anticipated in Maverick’s voice. He’s not focused on me, though, instead looking at his brother with a hard expression and one brow raised upward.
“Mav!” Quinn gasps and he moves his attention from his brother to her.
“Sorry, Quinn, but I’m thinkin’ that Clay’s lady friend would understand that this should be a moment for our family and give us time alone.”
“Don’t you dare finish that sentence, sugar,” Clay all but spits through clenched teeth and drops his arm to take a step forward. “You’ve got something to say, Mav, then say it.”
“Nothing to say, Clayton, I just think it would be nice for your girlfriend to give us some space.”
“My girlfriend,” he parrots sarcastically, his deep voice vibrating in anger.
“Mav.” Quinn attempts to butt in, but stops when Maverick leaves her side and turns to stalk out of the church. I should find it comical that he obviously didn’t recognize me, or hell, maybe he did and he’s just picking up where he left off ten years ago in the middle of the dark woods. I take a deep breath. “It’s okay. He’s right. Y’all need some time as a family. I’ll head over to the PieHole and start settin’ up for tonight.”
Quinn brushes a tear from her cheek and just shakes her head. I look at Clay to see him staring in the direction that his brother just left.
“You’re family,” he finally says, not looking in my direction.
“Clay, really, it’s okay. It’s been a long time since y’all were back together and I don’t need to be there for that reunion. It sucks that it takes all of this to finally bring him home, but he’s here and y’all need to make up for a lot of time lost.”
“Shut up, Leighton.”
“Don’t what? You’ve got every right to be here. You’re just as much a part of our family as he is. Hell, maybe even more so than he is at this point. So just shut up, come with us, and ignore him.”
I shake my head, the fight instantly leaving my sails, knowing I would be arguing until the end of time if I
pressed this issue.
“I can’t believe he doesn’t even recognize you,” Quinn whispers.
Harper is a NEW YORK TIMES, WALL STREET JOURNAL and USA TODAY bestselling author residing in Georgia with her husband and three daughters. She has a borderline unhealthy obsession with books, hibachi, tattoos and Game of Thrones. When she isn't writing you can almost always find her with a book in hand.