Wishful Cowboy (Hope Eternal Ranch Romance #5) by Elana Johnson

Chapter One





Luke Holt lay in the bed where he’d slept for a few months—the last few months of his prison sentence. Axle lay on his feet, the warmth from the dog’s body seeping into Luke and making him sweat. He hadn’t gone to bed with the pooch, but the dog wandered back and forth between the two bedrooms connected by the Jack-and-Jill bathroom.

He listened for the sound of Slate’s breathing, but he couldn’t hear it. It was still odd, even nine months later, to not be in the same room with over a dozen other men and all the noises they made in their sleep.

Luke blew a fan at night, mostly to combat his body’s natural furnace tendencies. But also to mask any sounds that might wake him.

He’d slept better here at Hope Eternal Ranch than he had anywhere else since leaving. He frowned, not sure what that meant. He’d never thought he’d stay here the way everyone else had. The problem was, there wasn’t much for him out in the world either.

“At least there’s no snow in Vegas,” he muttered as he rolled over. Axle got up and moved, padding up the length of Luke’s body, turning, and leaning right against his back. Luke didn’t complain, because it sure was nice to have another living, breathing thing so close to him.

The dark gray light filtering into the room told him it wasn’t quite dawn yet. He wasn’t getting up yet—and he wouldn’t get up when the sun did. He didn’t work here anymore, and as today was his last full day in Texas, he and the rest of the boys from River Bay were going fishing.

Fishing.

Such a mundane thing to do. But Nate had requested it as his Christmas gift, and no one in the group could deny Nathaniel Mulbury. Least of all Luke.

With his eyes closed, he thought of the first time he’d met Nate. His first night in prison. He’d been a fighter before, and it was his natural instinct to have conversations with his fists instead of his words. He didn’t have to talk to his opponents. He didn’t have to care how they felt. All he’d cared about was winning.

He’d done a lot of that, and he believed his prison sentence to be an injustice to him. He still felt that way, and if he dwelt on it for too long, his anger caused his fingers to clench and his jaw to tighten. Then all Luke wanted to do was start swinging.

He deliberately breathed in and pushed the air out. Can’t change the past, he told himself. Accept what’s happened, and move on.

He was getting much better at actually doing what he thought. Since seeing Slate overcome the demons in his past, Luke figured it was time for him to practice what he’d been preaching.

Yes, he didn’t think he was guilty of any crime. But what he thought didn’t matter.

Nate had taught him that, on that very first night in prison. Luke had picked a fight, because he always felt better when the pent-up energy inside of him flowed out through a jab or an uppercut. Nate had pulled him off a guy half his size and barked right in his face.

“That’s not what we do here, champ. Get control of yourself.”

Luke had gone right after Nate too, shoving him back and taking a swing at that pretty face, but Nate was a bigger man, and had been in prison longer, and he had three guys right there willing to take blows for him.

Ted, Dallas, and Slate.

Luke had faced down all four of them, wondering how they’d formed such a strong brotherhood in prison. How they’d formed a bond at all. He wasn’t great at that, but he’d been willing to try.

Luke had been the last in the group, and he still wasn’t sure how great he fit. The crew had been there for Family Day for Dallas when his wife had filed for divorce and dropped her kids off at her sister’s.

They’d come to visit Luke and Slate when they were the last two left. They’d come and picked them up on their release day.

Ginger had petitioned to have Luke in the re-entry program. He felt a debt of gratitude for her he hadn’t for another person other than his friends in prison.

So maybe you should stay here. He pushed the thought away. His family lived in Las Vegas now, and he had enjoyed being closer to them. They’d moved while he was in River Bay, and his Family Days had consisted of Nate’s brother and Dallas’s wife. Ted never did have much family come to the facility, and neither did Slate.

They both seemed to be thriving now, though. Heck, Nate and Ted had fallen in love by the nine-month mark of their releases, and Luke felt like it was just one more way he was failing.

He tried so hard. Tried and failed, almost all the time.