Threats forced her to flee Seattle.
Honor binds him to Montana.
A second chance at love tethers them together.
Elon Hardy’s romance skills are rusty after a loveless marriage ends, but upon meeting hunky rancher, Rane Calderon, sparks blaze hotter than her welding torch. To support her collegiate sons, she’s determined to acquiesce to the bullheaded, female-phobic boss until her divorce finalizes from her deceitful husband.
A woman Rane trusted ruined his life, and at forty, he won’t be fooled again. Blisteringly mad he’s hired a female bearing a man’s name, he fights attraction for the curvy, determined brunette while thwarting efforts to build a private prison atop his Blackfeet ancestors’ burial ground.
Can Elon and Rane realize love doesn’t have a “best used before date”? If you enjoy smoldering romance, mercenary villains, and rescued animals, you’ll love escaping again to Emma Springs, Montana.
Once again Sally Brandle takes us through a swirling range of emotions surrounded by mystery and suspense.
Even as Elon is traveling to her new job, her almost ex is causing her problems. The man is as evil as they come and she hasn’t been able to prove anything against him.
In order to keep her children in college she needs this job that comes with room and board. She just hopes she remembers enough about welding to pass the muster.
As she nears her destination, she witnesses a dog thrown out of a truck and immediately rescues the pretty pup. Now she has a pet and still has start her job.
This is a bit longer than my usual favorite scene, but I needed to share all of it.
Elon’s Mercedes crested another rise in lord-only-knew-where Montana. She adjusted the sun visor to view the first sign of human existence in over an hour. The shiny red pickup ahead slowed to a crawl in the valley below.
A silver silhouette of a reclining nude woman decorated one black mud flap; the other side advertised BABE TRADER written in shiny chrome. The truck’s passenger door opened. A bald guy leaned out and tossed a live animal as if it were trash.
Elon gasped. A dog with its legs braced for impact landed on scraggly tufts of grass.
Tires squealed, and the truck sped off.
“Scumbags!” Her pulse spiked, every impulse screaming to give chase and ram decency into the creeps. Instead, she stomped on the clutch and brake while her hand shifted.
Her focus moved to the poor dog. The hollow place in her heart knew exactly how the animal felt—chucked out after tolerating disrespect for too long.
The black and white ball of matted fur hunkered near the ragged edge of the road.
Border collie? She steered to the shoulder and parked. Her fingers shook while she shifted her suitcase in the trunk to locate the emergency blanket and a granola bar. Sweet aromas wafted in the clean air from the unwrapped peanut butter snack.
The cringing dog raised its nose. A silver choke chain jingled on its shaking body.
“It’s going to be all right,” Elon whispered. “I got thrown out, too.” She scowled, picturing Tim waving his single-owner deed to the house in her face. “Come on, pup.”
The dog took a tentative step, stopped, and tucked her tail, as if expecting a kick.
“You’re safe with me.” She pitched the snack bar between the dog’s front paws. “The way you flew out of that truck brought to mind a furry, fallen angel.”
Chocolatey brown eyes studied Elon’s face before it snatched the granola bar and swallowed it in a single gulp.
She took slow steps to within a couple feet of the quivering animal. “If you’re hurt, I’ll find a vet.” Beyond the dog stretched a horizon dotted by pine trees and sloping foothills shaded by fluffy, cotton shaped clouds. Brown fall grassland stretched endlessly ahead, blemished only by snaking blacktop. Too bad life’s circumstances wouldn’t allow pooch or savior to enjoy the beauty.
“I’m going to carry you to the car and pray you’re not injured.” Elon gradually approached, draped the blanket over the dog’s back, and lifted her. “Easy now, little Angel.” The animal quieted in her arms. “You don’t weigh much for your size. Didn’t those thugs feed you?”
Inside the car, the dog slunk against the bucket seat, one speckled paw gripping the leather cushion.
“May I call you Angel?” she asked quietly and patted the seat. “You can lie down, Angel.”
The dog dropped to a tense crouch.
Curses on the men who’d do this to an innocent animal, and curses on Tim! She grabbed her phone from the console, bent a paperclip, and removed the tiny SIM card, as Jeremy had instructed. Her pulse quickened as she gently shut the door and stepped to the back bumper. She raised her hand over her head and chucked the cell to the ground.
The case crashed against gravel. Field crickets stopped chirping.
“Trace that, Tim Hardy,” she announced, and stomped her heel onto the screen, cracking the glass. Sun glared off the shiny pieces. She pulled a tissue from her pocket, collected the shards, and dropped it in the corner of the trunk. Her eyes caught sight of her wedding band. Should she pitch the meaningless symbol?
She slid the plain silver ring to her knuckle, then stopped and moved it back in place. As much as she despised Tim, she’d decided to keep it on to prove to the boys she took vows seriously, even though his view of marriage equaled access to her parent’s money. Also, wearing it might continue to ward off unwanted advances. Once burned, twice wary.
Angel raised her head when she climbed inside. “Probably should’ve waited until we found the ranch. Ah well, service is spotty here, and severing another connection to Tim felt great. Not like he’d ever care where I went.”
A niggling suspicion told her he did.
She placed her hand next to the dog’s grubby outstretched foot and stroked until no toenails dug into the seat. “We’ll be at our new home soon.”
Angel’s warm doggy tongue licked the top of Elon’s hand, easing nerves rattled to brittle by events of the last weeks. Her teary eyes met the pup’s timid dark ones, and a bond of undeserved humiliation passed between them.
“We’re both due for a fresh start on a farm.” The Mercedes’ engine hummed to life after she twisted her key.
Not a pickup or hay-hauler appeared on the two-lane highway.
Quick glances in the review mirror helped her fight the creepy sensation she wasn’t alone while the car covered the last fifty miles. Still, fine hairs rose on her forearms.
“I see our landmark,” her hand trembled, down shifting.
Angel tilted her head, one black ear cocked and the other flopped at an angle. “It’s an old stove my employer described in his letter. Those two ‘C’s’ welded side by side on the warming shelf stand for Calderon Cattle.”
The skills she’d learned to create metal sculptures in high school were rusty at best. And basic. And lifting broken machinery took strength. “Saints preserve us.”
Her hands stuck to the wheel as she turned onto the dusty lane, passing a mailbox welded to one end of the boxy cast iron antique.
Baking and cooking might save her. Years ago, her grandma used a similar wood burning stove at their cabin to bake the best bread on earth. Elon had first learned cooking secrets at her side. Memories of her loving parents and grandparents had forged to steel in her brain. Thoughts of their harmonious marriages had kept her trying to please Tim after she’d discovered his infidelity.
Nothing had dazzled him, but fresh makeup never hurt during a first impression. Throwing the car in neutral, and stepping on the brake, she fished out blush and lipstick and applied a liberal dose.
Her hand hesitated before she shifted into first. Quit stalling, she scolded herself, and stepped on the gas. At a curve, she veered left in time to dodge a branch hanging from the last tree on the hill.
Below sat a rambling log house, a sizable barn, and a square building attached to a carport capable of holding a couple of tall RV’s. The structures sat adjacent to an open field. Cattle grazed in the background.
Her decades old car, engineered for the autobahn, bumped on rutted gravel leading down a gentle slope. She parked at the edge of a large corral, beside a shiny white truck. Edward Bell, DVM stood out in black letters on the cab door. Her fingers relaxed.
“Stay here, Angel.” She patted the dog and lowered the windows. Dust surrounded her feet as she approached an assortment of men outside a wooden corral, standing with their backs to her. Not a Stetson or baseball cap swiveled her way. All heads faced the activity in the corral.
She stood on tip toes. On the other side of the split rail fence, a mountain-sized bull lay flopped on the ground, a wide canvas sling around his belly. Its dusty head was cradled by a broad-shouldered man. His cowboy hat topped jet-black hair and a rugged, handsome face, right down to the square jaw and chiseled cheeks.
It was a scene straight out of a Levi’s ad—the boot cut style. She blinked and noticed a gray-haired man wearing a dark blue jumpsuit crouched over the animal’s hind leg. A stethoscope dangled from his chest pocket. He held a needled syringe in one hand, balanced a probe in the other, and used his pinky to adjust settings on a portable machine sitting near his feet.
Elon glanced at the blurry screen image, wiped her palms on her jeans, and stepped closer to the onlookers. “I may be able to help adjust the image for clarity,” she offered quietly.
The guy ahead of her flinched and turned to face her. “Hey, there’s a gal here who says she can help,” he shouted.
Grubby male faces jerked around. A ruddy-faced younger man looked owl-eyed surprised.
“Might be able to help,” she corrected in a shaky voice. “I’ve only assisted with ultrasound images of babies.”
The man in the jumpsuit raised his head. “Bones are bones, Miss. To a doctor or a veterinarian.” He waved the probe and threw her a relieved smile. “Come on in. I’d appreciate an extra pair of experienced hands.”
Pungent diesel and manure scents radiated from nearby blue jeans and Carhartt’s.
“Excuse me,” she said, then turned sideways and shuffled between two men.
A stocky guy in greasy, blue-striped bib overalls swiveled his barrel chest and gave her the once over. A low wolf-whistle pierced the air. “Nice ass…istant, Doc.”
Snickers came from the group until the cowboy holding the bull’s head shot them a glare fierce enough to send a sane person running for cover.
The foul-mouthed brute in bibs kept staring. Heat rose to her face. She’d had it up to her hairline with men—doctors, lawyers, and creeps in red pickups.
“Clear a path, boys.” Beads of perspiration lined the vet’s wrinkled brow. “A doctor’s office you say?”
“Correct. I know an ultrasound from ultra-crude.” She tugged the back of her wrinkled, crimson-colored blouse over her butt and wiggled through the gap in the wooden fence rails. Barely.
“I appreciate you already.” The vet raised the syringe. “Serum I’m injecting needs to flow precisely into the fracture above the bull’s fetlock.”
“Not familiar with a fetlock. Let’s see if we can clarify the picture.” She bent over the machine and adjusted two dials until a clear image appeared.
“Yes, that’s it. Perfect.” The vet nodded.
His eyes remained on the monitor while he moved the probe. “Now, I can administer the BoneGlu.” He poked into the cow’s hide and pushed the plunger of the fist-sized syringe. The screen displayed liquid oozing into a bone break.
The doctor removed the long needle and wiped the patch of shaved hide. “You had excellent timing, Miss. Next, I’ll splint and wrap the area.” He threw a two-fingered salute to the cowboy kneeling at the front end of the animal. “Rane, you can relax.”
Rane, as in Rane Calderon? No way! Elon swallowed a groan. Tall, dark, and deadly described her new boss. And he had to be within a couple years of her age.
Rane gently patted the sleeping bull’s head. “Thanks, Ed. Tomo deserves a fighting chance. Glad the BoneGlu inventor sourced and overnighted enough. I’ll tell him how it works on a two-thousand-pound patient.”
The veterinarian tipped the control pad of the machine and snapped it shut. “Good idea. And a huge thanks to your guest. Watch for signs Tomo’s waking from the sedative in twenty minutes.”
“Got it.” Rane’s attention shifted to Elon. “To whom do I owe gratitude?” Narrowed eyes pierced into her—cold, confident, and demanding an answer.
She’d saved the day, so why’d his glare mimic Tim’s perennial disdain? “I’m Elon, the welder and cook you hired last week.”
Sally Brandle. The Targeted Pawn by Sally Brandle 3.3.20 to ARC (Kindle Locations 277-365). Soul Mate Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Now aside from the shock Rane gets at Elon being a woman, he also has reservations about her abilities as a welder.
Then there’s the mystery factor when someone starts taking pot shots at folks.
Plenty of suspense and the romance between Rane and Elon grows slowly but surely into something so much more. Even as her ex is making her life miserable financially.
We get to see the folks from the other books as well as Red the donkey. I love them all so much!
I hope this series continues, I love all the characters I’ve met so far, well except for the bad guys.
5 Contented Purrs for Sally!
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Dodging male offspring and her functionally adept engineer husband, Sally steals away to her office to free non-princess types residing in her brain. Her trusty Australian Shepherd rescue pup, Tallulah, gives her input as the adventures unfold.
Childhood in rural Michigan, family, friends, critters and travel stateside and abroad feed the speed of her fingers to the keys. When stalling occurs, she heads to Lance, her trusty steed stabled close to miles of wooded trails. Off they go for a head-clearing ride in fresh air, or a note session while the big gelding grazes.
Sally is a member of Romance Writers of America, Greater Seattle Romance Writers, Eastside Romance Writers and She Writes.
In 2014 she won the ECO Romantic Suspense category, and in 2015 finaled in Pages from The Heart, Hot Prospects and the Heart to Heart contests.
She invites you to sit back, get comfy and prepare to drop into her stories.