A promise from his past threatens what Chance values most...his freedom
Cora Mae Tindale isn't looking to stir up trouble--she just needs a safe place to hide while she plans out her future. Having escaped the marriage trap set by her conniving mother, she's arrived in the wilds of Wyoming searching for the stepbrother who promised to always protect her. She hadn't counted on the boy from her childhood becoming a war-hardened rancher with heart-stopping looks that could tempt a saint.
Plagued by horse thieves and marriage-minded females, the last thing Chance Morgan needs is a woman on his ranch. But Cora Mae is more than just a pretty face--she's part of his past; a reminder of the guilt and broken promises he's spent too many years trying to forget. A distracting array of curls and curves, she hardly resembles the mischievous spitfire from his youth, but her eyes hold the shadows of a painful past, and a passion she struggles to conceal. Cora Mae's indifference entices Chance in a way that blatant flirtation never could. He yearns to discover the truth she hides, but will uncovering her secrets expose his own?
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December 31, 2007
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Excerpt from Maverick Wild by Stacey Kayne
Wyoming Territory ~ 1883
One hand clutching her valise, the other flattened atop her ivory bonnet to prevent the biting wind from snatching it away, Cora Mae Tindale charged through the dusty, pitted road of Slippery Gulch. Horses and wagons clamored through the small strip separating the parallel row of buildings. She leapt onto the crowded boardwalk. Folks swarmed like bees as the driver continued to toss parcels and crates down from the stagecoach that had brought her this far.
Only twenty more miles.
Cora drew her carpetbag of dusty traveling clothes against her aching ribs and forged her way through. Lord, what she'd give for a full breath. Her corset pinched beneath the straining fabric of the yellow gown her mother had starved her into just one agonizing month ago. She hadn't inherited her mother's petite build, but the raving woman wouldn't relent.
There was nothing to be done for it now. This was the nicest dress she'd managed to stuff into her trunk. She couldn't arrive at the Morgan ranch appearing a vagabond in need of generosity.
Keeping her gaze on the livery just a few shops down, she quickened her pace. Beyond the noise and bustle of the crowded strip, tiny canvas-topped homes spotted uneven grasses. Miles of rolling hills rippled into the distance like great green waves. Further out, snowcapped mountains spiked up into the clear blue.
Cora's heart constricted painfully. The imposing view made it all too clear that this settlement was nothing but a tiny speck in a vast expanse of hills and sky. She'd heard Wyoming Territory was largely unsettled, but hadn't imagined Tucker and Chance would have built their ranch so far out into sheer wilderness.
She wouldn't be discouraged. She'd waited so long to see them again, though these were not the circumstances she had envisioned.
An instant burn of tears stung her eyes at the thought. The eight years she had spent at the textile mill had truly been a kindness. She'd been such a fool to believe Mother had summoned her home because she had missed her. Had she even suspected--
Alarmed by the foul stench of bourbon on the breath so close to her ear, Cora swung around.
A tall cowboy shifted his hat over curly black hair. "Name's Wyatt McNealy. I hear you're headed to the Morgan ranch and are, uh, in need of my services."
Cora took one look at Wyatt McNealy's smug grin and winking eye and knew she'd crawl the twenty miles to the Morgan Ranch before she'd travel in the company of a man carrying the stench of alcohol.
"You are mistaken, Mr. McNealy. I am not in need of any services."
"Spud tells me you're headed out to the Morgan place. I happen to be traveling in that direction. No sense in you having to struggle with a cart across such rugged ground."
Cora squared her shoulders. "I appreciate your concern, but I'm quite capable of handling a horse and cart. After traveling for weeks without altercation, I'm sure I can manage another twenty miles." She attempted to move past him. "Good day."
He sidestepped, blocking her way.
Fear nettled beneath her skin. She fingers tightened around the handle of her carpetbag, preparing to knock him out of her way. Her other hand curled into a fist, just as her stepbrothers had taught her.
"You kin to the Morgans?"
"We're a kin of sorts," she said, hoping Chance and Tucker still thought of her as such.
"Well then." His fingers closed around her elbow. "I know they'd want me to make sure you reached their homestead safe and sound."
Cora wrenched her arm from his grasp.
"Wyatt!" boomed a voice from behind them. "You black-hearted son of a bitch!" The cracking of knuckles against Wyatt jawbone punctuated the hard-spoken words. Wyatt dropped to the boardwalk as the crowd around them dispersed like a clutch of spooked chickens. Cora swallowed a shriek and backed against the building as Wyatt's attacker brushed past her.
The dark figure seemed a giant, well over six feet and covered in dried mud. He turned toward his companion standing in the road. Wyatt started to rise. The giant tossed something at him, knocking him back down with a loud clunk.
A small dead horse caked in mud pinned him to the boardwalk. Cora clamped her hand over her gaping mouth.
Wyatt groaned and shoved against the weight.
"I'll be sending you a Ira for that colt and any others should they die from the stress you put them through. You better pray the others make it, Wyatt."
Wyatt shifted. Cora saw his hand going for the hilt of his gun. Before she could shout a warning, a younger man stepped forward and pointed his rifle at Wyatt's head.
"The kid's known to have an itchy trigger finger," said the muddy rogue. "I'd hold real still if I were you."
Her pulse thundering in her ears, Cora glanced beyond the giant pillar of dirt and his young accomplice, toward the spectators gathered at a safe distance. Most watched with mild interest, while others continued on about their business.