Billionaire and the Cowgirl

By: Ella Goode

“You can’t look. Turn your chair and face the wall.” Astor scowls.

“He’s looking.” I point to the male stylist, who is holding up a shirt.

“I’m gay.”

As if that means anything. “You still got a dick and balls, don’t you?”

“Cane Justice.” Birdie’s voice is getting shrill.

“Actually, can I take a break?” Astor inserts. “I know I just got here, but I’m suddenly having second and third thoughts.”

“You are going to do great, but sure. Take all the time you need.” Birdie nods to her assistant, who sets the shirt down on the table with a small sigh.

Astor gives us all a tight smile.

“Let’s go to the barn.” I hold out my hand. She doesn’t take it but nods instead. The barn is a familiar place for her.

We walk across the lawn, the sun baking down on our heads, our arms swinging close together.

“I need the money,” she says suddenly. “The farm is struggling. Dad made a bad investment in some strip mall property in Fort Worth. The real estate agent who sold it promised that there was going to be tons of traffic, but the buildings have sat empty for months now with no lessees. We’re going to need to sell it, but it’ll be at a big loss. Even if I sold all of our stock, we’d not be able to cover the debt. This modeling fee will help us breathe for a few months, and Birdie said it might lead to other opportunities.”

“Astor, you don’t have to explain yourself to me. If you want to model, I’ll support you. I’ll seethe with jealousy, but I’ll support you.”

She stops at the fence line overlooking the paddock where we exercise the horses. My trainer has one of our new buys circling the ring. Astor’s eyes glow with fondness. She loves her horses.

I want to take her away from the ugliness of her home, set her up here at the Justice ranch. She’s so good with the animals. We could probably train twice as many if she was in charge.

“Come live with me,” I urge quietly.

A twisted smile stretches across her mouth. “I can’t, and you know it. You broke my heart all those years ago when you believed that dumb curse and now my dad is in his state. I can’t abandon him. He’s angry and ornery, but my mom loved him, and she’d cry buckets if she saw me give up on him.”

“Let me try to make amends then. Explain to him what happened and how I never meant for that horse to get into his hands.”

She shakes her head. “It won’t work. His heart is too hard. Maybe if he started walking again, but that would take months of physical therapy that I don’t have the money for and he doesn’t have the urge to do. It’s a lost cause, and I’m so emotionally exhausted I just don’t have time for these things. I don’t have any energy left for you, Cane. If you’d just leave me alone, I think my life would be better. Swear to God.”

The words are like a knife. She’s not even angry. Her tone is resigned and mournful, and that makes it hurt all the more. She really sounds like she’s done with me. If I could go back in time, I’d murder eighteen-year-old me. Words and smiles aren’t going to convince her that she’s wrong. Her daddy is the key here, and so I’m going to convince him I’m the right man for Astor even if it means a daily round of buckshot in my ass. I’m not giving up on her or us.



I shoot the glass of champagne back, not expecting the burn that comes to my eyes and nose. The hell? What have I gone and gotten myself into?

When I agreed to do the photoshoot, I had no idea I was going to have to travel to Houston. I thought I'd drive into Dallas or something but soon found out that wasn’t the case. I’d offered to drive myself to Houston but quickly realized it would be a waste of a lot of time. It didn’t make sense when we could jump on a short plane ride. We were cramming a lot into the short amount of time so I’d only have to leave my dad for one night.

He wasn’t too happy about it when I told him, but I made sure to prepare everything I could think of before I left. I honestly can’t remember the last time I slept away from home. It had to be before my father’s accident.

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