I'm part of an online group that helps out with a romance readers site--it gives me free exposure on a busy site without much work on my part. This group also puts out a boxed set here and there.
This year, the organizer (rather dictatorially) decided that the theme is...cowboys.
Several people immediately said, "No, thank you, I don't write cowboys."
I said, "Well, I'll try," while feeling dubious.
I am mystified by the attraction some people (and many romance readers) have toward cowboys. They strike me as smelly and stupid, good ol' boys obsessed with either horses or trucks or both.
But I tried and still am trying. Here are my abortive efforts:
This first one was going to be about an underqualified secretary and her new boss:
Her Cowboy “Daddy”
Laura Hendrix smoothed her denim skirt with sweaty, nervous fingers, wishing she’d worn something fancier to meet her new boss. She didn’t know much about him except that the Randalls had hired him to whip the ranch finances into shape.
“Is he permanent?” she asked Dave Randall, the owner of the Double R, as the Randall spread was called.
“Maybe. Probably. I don’t know,” he said, lowering his bulk into a rocking chair tucked into a corner of the whitewashed porch.
“He’s permanent.” Janet Randall’s voice was firm. The other owner and Dave’s wife, Janet had a will like tempered steel and a laser focus on her husband’s welfare. Everyone knew that since 62-year-old Dave’s heart attack, Janet wasn’t taking any chances on his well-being. She’d hired Logan Maxwell sight unseen from the internet while Dave was still in the hospital, presenting the new CFO of the Double R as a fait accompli.
“I hope we get along.” Laura hoped she sounded calm, but her insides were roiling. She had enough hassles avoiding the ranch hands’ unwanted attentions. She liked cowboys well enough, as long as they showered after their work shifts. Often, they didn’t.
And she was worried that she’d fallen short. She had only an AA from the local community college, and knew she didn’t have the accounting skills that the Double R needed.
She needed this job. She had to get along with this guy.
In the distance, a black SUV that had seen better days stopped at the little gatehouse at the ranch’s entrance. The gate opened, and the SUV neared, its tires crunching on the gravel lane leading to the main house.
Dave sighed, and Janet scurried to his side. “What’s up, honeybear?”
“I’m a little tired and thirsty.” He sounded embarrassed, and Laura, knowing he was ashamed of his weakness, slipped discreetly to the other side of the porch as Janet helped him out of his chair.
She turned to Laura as they walked slowly to the screen door. “Please greet Mr. Maxwell and show him around.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Laura’s palms itched, and she again rubbed them on her skirt, then straightened her plaid blouse.
That was as far as I got, having opened Facebook out of sheer boredom.
2d effort: about a waitress who cuts herself and the cowboy who healed her heart:
Triple Forks, Montana
Luanne tugged the bright white cuffs of her plaid uniform shirt down over her wrists, adjusted her denim skirt and grabbed a trayful of breakfasts. Glancing at the order stub tucked beneath a plate of ham and grits, she headed for a booth near the diner’s front door. Balancing the tray on one upturned hand was a skill that continued to elude her, so she held the tray with both hands and set its edge on the table as she served three men at a four-top.
“Hey there, Luanne.”
“Good morning, Mr. Robinson.” She served ham and grits to Dave Robinson, the owner of the Double R, who emphatically shouldn’t be eating that dish. The lean ham was fine, but the grits, laden with heavy cream, butter and salt, should have been off Dave’s diet since his heart attack and surgery. She mentally shrugged, telling herself that criticizing a customer’s order would lead to nothing but disaster.
She needed this job, she thought as she served a Denver omelette to his foreman, who nodded to her with a slight smile. Best to shut up, look pretty, and collect tips.
She didn’t recognize the third man, who she thought of as “Slab of Moo with Flop Two on a Raft”—steak with two eggs over easy on toast. He was sure easy on the eyes, though—an older Sam Waterston type in a plaid western-style shirt, sleeves rolled up to expose brawny, suntanned forearms. Blue eyes twinkled from a nest of crow’s feet.
Something that was knotted up inside her relaxed, but she didn’t know why. She slid his breakfast in front of him, eyed his half-full mug, and said, “I’ll bring more coffee.”
His hand shot forward, grasping her wrist. Startled, she stopped. The something inside of her that had calmed now twisted anew, and she stiffened.
Trapped. She didn’t like that.
She disengaged herself while he asked, “Are you married? You’re not wearing a ring.”
Her mind blanked. “What? I’m only nineteen.” She shot him a look that probably showed how befuddled she was by the question. She barked out a laugh. “Married? No.”
Hell no was more like it. Not after suffering through her parents’ marriage, which had been more like a battlefield, with their kids—Luanne and her fifteen-year-old brother Jack—stuck in the crossfire. She’d left, taking Jack, the day she turned eighteen. She’d gotten a job at the diner and rented a studio apartment for them both. Okay, their little home might be crummy and crowded, but it was safe and peaceful.
She’d never marry, and didn’t plan even to let anyone get too close.
“So will you go out with me Saturday night?”
She huffed out a breath. “No.” Then, remembering her manners, she said, “Thank you, but no.”
And that’s the end of that, she thought, while pouring his coffee without meeting his keen blue gaze.
There's more--this was actually going well until I got to the dinner date. Then it just...went dead.
Then I decided that maybe writing a historical would keep my interest.
She’d been a showgirl with bleached hair, a big laugh and bigger tits. When the girls had started to fall, she headed out west to make her fortune in the brawling mining camps that had sprung up after gold had been discovered in California.
Without knowing quite where to go, she’d landed in Sacramento, the gateway to the gold country. She hoped that the miners coming through the town from San Francisco would want a last poke from one of the soiled doves she’d hired.
She liked her life. She’d saved, so her bordello was the finest in Sacramento. The big bar had been carved from a single, massive __________ trunk and stretched fully ____ feet long. The piano had been imported from France—the player she’d hired liked Mozart, and those lively, tinkling refrains added to the relaxed atmosphere.
Stained glass trimmed lamps and windows, also hung with thick, green velvet drapes, which matched rugs scattered over the polished ___floor. The stamped tin ceiling was painted green and gold. The girls, dressed in green, pink, cream and gold, looked and smelled like flowers. Mirrors reflected all.
Dulcie set her hands on the bar and breathed. Just breathed. Breathed in the good aromas of stewed chicken, perfume, whiskey and men. Lots of men.
Cowboys, miners and local businessmen crowded the front room of Dulcie’s Place, which hummed and buzzed with conversation and music. The clatter of silverware against fine china came from the dining room behind her, while a discreet bump or two on the ceiling above told her that her girls were doing their jobs in the rooms upstairs.
All was well.
All was perfect.
All was perfect until a roughly dressed cowboy burst in through the elaborately carved front doors with a gun drawn, shouting, “Where’s the no-good asshole who ruined my sister?”
The Cowboy and His Countess
Nate Fortune rolled the dusty brim of his hat with long, tanned fingers and shuffled his feet, shod in battered boots, on the thick, carved rug. He regarded the somberly dressed man of business across the wide desk, feeling as out of place as Cinderella at a round-up. “You mean to tell me I...I...I...”
When words failed him, the man of business took over. “That is correct, my lord. You have inherited, through your father’s lineage, a manor house in Kent and a hunting box in the Cotswolds, along with the title.”
“I’m, I’m an earl.”
“Yes, you are. Lord Darlingside.”
“Well, there’s a sissy name.”
The man shrugged. “However, you will inherit the funds only if you marry a peeress.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Your holdings have been sorely neglected. When your father became estranged from his family and moved to America, his father, the late earl and your grandfather, lost interest in maintaining his—your—estates. The properties do not generate enough income at present to effect repairs. You need the capital to bring your legacy up to snuff and to do that, you must marry.”
“And marry well.”
“‘Well’ is a comparative term, my lord. Your bride’s dowry need not be considerable. She must, however, be well- born and –bred.”
“A member of the English aristocracy.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Nate rubbed his jaw. “And where shall I find such a lady?”
The man of affairs smiled. “I know just the place.”
Nate glanced at a mirror just inside the entrance to the Almack’s Assembly Rooms and thought he looked like a pansy. The ruffled shirt was beyond ridiculous even without its silk-trimmed collar, which was so high he could scarcely turn his head.
Yes, it's a familiar formula, but it just might work.
Wish me luck.