Madison Moore pushed through the pain. It wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last. A guttural “ha” escaped her lips as she extended her arm and leaned low to send the tennis ball back across the net. Fire spread through her right shoulder. She winced as she prepared to backhand the ball. She squelched a smile at the soft thud of the sphere bouncing off her racket netting, as it sailed toward a hard-to-reach corner of the opposite side of the court.
The warm sun beat down on her tanned arms. Madison had always enjoyed playing in Arizona in the winter. It didn’t feel like the Januaries she had grown up with in Colorado.
“Ha!” she grunted with her next hit.
“Hey!” Bella Gaines, her sparring partner, complained. “Watch the legs!”
Madison’s lips tilted up in a half-smile when Bella volleyed the bright yellow ball over the net. It flew just out of reach, so Madison leaned to smack it back. The pain seared through her shoulder, causing her to drop her racket. Her left arm crossed over her chest as her hand locked onto her hurting shoulder.
“Enough for today,” Coach Layla said. “Best put ice on it.”
Madison frowned as her personal assistant Sydney retrieved her racket. Seemed Syd had been doing that a lot lately—ever since the surgery.
Worry threaded around Madison’s heart for the hundredth time. In two months, she needed to be ready for a huge charity tournament in Phoenix. If she didn’t compete in it or did poorly, it might be the end of her career. She was still young. Twenty-six. Many players continued in the sport well into their thirties, especially if they were top tier, like she was.
As she silently walked toward the locker room, long ponytail bouncing against her back, the life-changing injury flashed in her mind’s eye. September in New York City. The US Open. Just like her last hit this morning, Madison overextended her arm to return the ball and avoid points awarded to her opponent. She felt the tear the second it happened, crumpling to the hard court surface. Her boyfriend, also her personal trainer, rushed the court and carried her off. International TV cameras captured the whole thing.
Ugh. It had been the last day of the Open. She was in the number one spot for Women’s Singles. By forfeiting her last match, she lost her chance at winning. One match away from a Grand Slam—winning all four major world tournaments. It would have been her second year in a row.
Instead, her manager had rushed her to the hospital. The next day her lame boyfriend dumped her by text message. Funny how he befriended the winner that day, confirming he had only dated her to further his own career. Scum.
As Madison entered the locker room, Syd followed behind her. She must have sensed Madison’s mood because she quickly packed up Madison’s equipment and lugged it out to the rented SUV.
Madison showered and changed into shorts and a ruffled short-sleeved top. She donned a pair of fancy flip-flops, showing off her perfect pedicure. She may feel terrible, but she looked great.
“Where is this place again?” Madison asked as she tossed her gym bag into the back of the SUV. Then she climbed into the back seat behind the driver, her manager, Kevin.
“Vargas Guest Ranch & Resort is in Wickenburg. About two and a half hours due west,” Syd replied.
“Guest ranch? They have pro-grade tennis courts?”
Kevin grunted. “Yes. Like I’d let you rehab anywhere substandard.”
“But, a guest ranch?”
“They have a state-of-the-art sports complex that just opened. Our buddy Cole Gregory works there now.”
“Not my buddy. Yours, if I recall.”
Kevin’s eyes flicked to the rearview mirror. “You have a problem with him?”
If Madison remembered the sports agent, she had absolutely no problem with him. He was easy on the eyes and she even nursed a bit of a crush on him a few years ago. He had never seemed interested in her then. Rumor had it he was religious. Never dated clients or potential clients or friends of clients. The guy had a reputation of being above board. Always.
When Kevin’s gaze returned to the road, Madison watched the cars zip by on the eight-lane highway. The throbbing in her shoulder had subsided after icing it for the first twenty minutes of the drive. As the city gave way to open desert, she remembered what Mom said when she FaceTimed with her earlier in the week.
Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!
Mom often interjected Bible verses into their conversations. Verses Madison had grown up memorizing, like that one from Luke 12. The faith she had abandoned when fame and glory lured her into believing the lie that she had created her success on her own. One torn shoulder muscle, hours of surgery, and months of rehab had humbled her.
Father God, You are enough. Thank you for reminding me I am in Your hands. Whether or not I play pro tennis again.
The tension coiled around her shoulders, causing the throbbing to return. Madison really hoped God might let her continue to play tennis. It was the only thing she knew. She had never considered what life would look like after tennis.
Madison sighed and popped in her earbuds for the rest of the drive, listening to worship music to comfort her soul. She didn’t want to go back to a life far from God. She smiled. Guess that sort of made her religious, too.
Derin Vargas frowned at the ridiculous polo shirt. A man built like him wasn’t meant to wear such a shirt. The collar looked too small even as it gaped open. He unbuttoned the last button. Still didn’t look right. He tugged at the opening. Then he ran a finger under each cuff, stretching out the sleeves. The soft fabric felt comfortable. It was the collar and short-sleeves that had him in a surly mood. That and khakis.
“Are you sure I have to dress like this?” he asked as he stepped out of his bedroom into the living room.
Cole Gregory entered from his bedroom on the other side of the living room. His eyes traveled from Derin’s cowboy boots to the stiff pants and up to the shirt. A chuckle echoed in the room as Cole’s face broke into a huge grin.
“Don’t think cowboy boots are the right footwear.”
Derin shook his head and crossed his arms over his broad chest, glaring at his new roommate. “I draw the line at that.”
Cole leaned against the doorframe of his room. What had Derin been thinking to let his friend room with him in his temporary home? Oh, yeah. Accountability. That was it.
“Maybe we should get you some button-down executive shirts with the logo. What about your dark jeans? How’s the polo look with them?”
Derin toed off his two-tone brown boots before heading back into his room. He was twenty-nine, for goodness’s sake. He ought to be able to dress himself. Add that to the long list of things he felt unprepared to do. Dalton must not be thinking straight to put Derin in charge of the sports complex and rehab center. Sure, he loved sports. Was downright excited that a famous pro tennis player would arrive in a few hours. But Derin was a cowboy through and through. Ranch foreman suited him better than, well, this new job and the clothes that came with it.
After he donned his black jeans and swapped to a black belt with a large silver buckle, he stepped into the living room again.
“Hmm,” Cole murmured from near the coffeepot. “You wearing your Stetson?”
Cole snickered. “Here, you need some coffee.”
“So, is this good enough?”
“It’ll have to do. ‘Cause no way are you meeting Madison Moore in a checkered shirt.”
Derin swallowed hard. No one had told him the pro tennis player was a woman. Or that she was Madison Moore—only one of the most drop-dead gorgeous athletes in the country. He admired her skill, too. She had almost swept the worldwide women’s single tournaments two years in a row.
Yeah, so, tennis. His brothers gave him grief about his love of tennis. To quote Devon, “No self-respecting cowboy follows tennis.” Except Derin. Derin loved football—American and World varieties—tennis, and basketball. In a pinch, he might watch baseball, although it kinda fell right below watching paint dry. Of course, if they ended up with baseball clients, he would be able to hold his own in a conversation about the sport and even spew some stats.
Whatever. So he liked tennis. And Madison Moore.
“Cool it, bro. She’s a client,” Cole said as he thrust a travel mug of coffee into Derin’s hand.
Derin ran a hand through his hair and dropped his cowboy hat in place before accepting the coffee. Then he scooped up his keys from the table by the front door of his temporary home, a luxurious double-wide trailer on his newly gifted five-acre piece of land just south of Dylan’s. Now that Dylan and Brisa tied the knot, Papi and Mami gifted the four youngest Vargas brothers five acres each for a home. Dalton, the oldest, owned the main ranch house. Even though Dylan’s land sat vacant for now, Derin had plans for his own. He had purchased the double-wide the next day, and it had arrived just last week. Man, it was nice not living in the bunkhouse.
He slid behind the wheel of his dually and backed out as Cole ducked into his fancy lime green McLaren 750S Spider. Derin still couldn’t believe Cole willingly gave up his lucrative career as a sports agent to come play second fiddle to him. He also couldn’t believe he drove that sweet sports car on the dirt and gravel roads of the ranch. One rock could mar the pristine paint job.
He first met Cole when Cole stayed at the resort—it was how Derin met anyone. Cole was a sports agent, well-connected in tennis, baseball, and football circles. Cole had been looking for the real cowboy experience, and Derin drew the short-straw that day. They became fast friends, keeping in touch via FaceTime and text messages for the past six years. When Cole had downtime, which wasn’t often, he came to the ranch. Best part, Cole was a strong Christian—a positive influence—without being overly pious or annoying like Derin’s older brothers Dalton and Dylan.
Derin tugged on the collar of the polo shirt again. Cole’s business sense far exceeded his own. He would be the better choice to run the sports complex. Not a cowboy with no college education, like Derin.
Didn’t matter. He was a Vargas, and Vargases ran every aspect of the guest ranch and resort. Dalton, in his position as Ranch Manager, acted like the CEO of the entire multi-million-dollar enterprise, on track to become billion-dollar. Dylan managed the stables, a job perfect for his quiet older brother. Derin, the middle son, now ran the sports complex. Devon oversaw the children’s programming for the resort. And the youngest, Drake, a regular mamacita’s boy, ran the coffee shop. Oh, and the dining hall. Their cousin Renata managed the resort and spa.
Derin parked his dually in his assigned parking spot—a paved one—and cut the engine. We do not deviate from the Lord’s plan. His family’s motto replayed in his mind. Maybe this was God’s plan. He wasn’t sure God could use someone like him. He had one major flaw. One he was getting help with. Between a counselor, a recovery group at a church in town, and Cole as a new roommate, maybe he could straighten himself out and get on with planning his future.
As he flung his truck door open, he noticed the sexy blond—grr, pretty. He was learning his word choices, even the unvoiced ones in his head, mattered. He needed to describe women differently if he really wanted to see them differently and eventually become a man worthy of a wife. So “pretty” or “beautiful” blond. Yeah, he noticed her. She didn’t dress like a pro tennis player. Nope. Cute jean shorts topped with a teal ruffle-sleeved shirt made her skin look even more tanned. Dainty sandals. Long golden hair hung down to her waist. His mouth went dry as he watched the pleasing sway of her hips.
Cole’s McLaren parked next to him, the deep purring engine silencing a few seconds later, jolting his eyes from the lovely tennis pro.
“Hey, wait up, Der.”
Derin slowed his long legs, giving his shorter friend a chance to catch up.
“You want me to introduce you? I’ve met Madison before.”
“Yeah. What are we going with for my title again?”
“CEO of Vargas Sports.”
Derin felt twice as uncomfortable as ten minutes ago. Madison Moore was their first client. He had to make a good first impression, despite his self-doubt. His normal confidence waned. Squaring his shoulders, he decided he should fake it until he made it. He pasted on his most charming grin, straightened his shoulders, and mentally rehearsed his welcome speech as he waited for the introduction.
About the Series
Love is in the air at the Vargas Guest Ranch & Resort near Wickenburg, Arizona. The Vargas family lives and breathes their family motto: We do not deviate from the Lord’s plan. Five brawny brothers keep the ranch and resort running while life lassos their hearts in this epic contemporary cowboy romance series.
Falling for a Real Cowboy (Book 1) - Dalton Vargas
Release Date: November 21, 2023
Available for pre-order at all major retailers.
She’s trying to resurrect her career. He’s sworn off women. Will this city-meets-country duo find love where they least expect it?
Falling for a Shy Cowboy (Book 2) - Dylan Vargas
Release Date: December 19, 2023
Available for pre-order at all major retailers.
She’s a single mom with a disabled son. He’s been in love with her since high school. Will this shy cowboy finally win her heart?
Falling for a Bossy Cowboy (Book 3) - Derin Vargas
Release Date: March 26, 2024
She’s famous and nearing the end of her career. He’s blunt, bossy, and downright annoying. Will these two find the perfect balance between truth and love?
Falling for a Smart Cowboy (Book 4) - Devon Vargas
Release Date: 2024
She’s an orphan on a mission to change children’s lives. He’s an overwhelmed overachiever and her boss. Will these two learn to work together and find love in the process?
Falling for a Grumpy Cowboy (Book 5) - Drake Vargas
Release Date: 2024
She’s the happiest person he’s ever met. His world has turned upside and he wallows in misery. Will these coworkers find middle ground as they head into the holidays?