The last thing rancher Rory Kendrick expects to find when he’s searching for his missing cattle is a genuine damsel in distress. After rushing to help, he can’t help wanting to do anything he can for this lovely but damaged woman. But even his kind deed won’t get Sadie to tell him who’s responsible for hurting her.
Sadie is trying to hold onto her family, and her life. With an ill father who’s refusing treatment and a younger brother who has fallen in with a dangerous crowd, she’s beginning to feel like she can’t save anyone, least of all herself. When her brother owes money to the wrong people, Sadie tries to pay off his debts, but she doesn’t have the cash. The one person who might be able to help her out is the last person she wants to involve in her family drama, but Rory won’t take no for an answer.
Rory is all about family, but sometimes you’ve got to let go. If you can’t save them, save yourself. Sadie’s been dealt a bad hand she refuses to fold. Because he loves her, he’ll do anything to keep her safe and give her the happy life she deserves, even betray her trust to take down her brother.
“Stop touching her. Let’s just go and get the damn cattle to the trailers before we get caught.” Connor stared down at her, lying on the ground practically naked.
What the hell? Her gaze locked on the man crouched beside her, his hand gripped around her upper arm, keeping her from scrambling away. Fear tore through her body. The cold bit into her skin and froze her bones. She clamped her aching jaw down tight to keep her teeth from chattering. She pushed up to sitting, her knees drawn up, and covered herself with her hands. Her cheeks heated with embarrassment. She scanned the area for her missing coat, jeans, and shirt. At least the asshole hadn’t gotten her out of her panties and bra; still, it wasn’t enough coverage to make her feel safe, or keep her warm.
“Give me back my clothes.” Her sharp words didn’t hide the fear shaking her voice.
“Shut up, or I’ll clock you again.”
Scott and Tony, Connor’s so-called friends, stood over her smoking cigarettes. The three of them col- lectively added up to one brain. None of them came up with a good idea, but they sure could turn a bad one worse one-upping one another. Now that she was awake, their gazes shot from her breasts to her face, then off to the scattered clouds overhead.
Connor pushed away the guy beside her, someone she didn’t know. “You don’t need to strip her. You fuck- ing lay another hand on her and I’ll kill you.”
She appreciated her brother’s bravado, but the big dude with long, greasy dark hair; devil tat on his neck; and the wicked knife in his hand he whipped out from behind him could probably kill her brother with a look from his cold eyes. Her throbbing jaw attested to the guy’s powerful right hook. If he’d hit a woman, no tell- ing what he’d do to her brother.
The devil dude, as she immediately thought of him, stood and took a menacing step closer to her brother. “Your sister has one hot body. She’d look damn good in lace.” He raked his gaze over her figure, grimac- ing at her cotton bra and panties. “I say we teach her a lesson about butting into my business.” The devil dude smacked Scott on the shoulder, trying to get his agreement.
Scott and Tony continued to look uncomfortable, shaking their heads and toeing at the dirt, avoiding looking the devil dude right in the eye. They probably needed another hit of whatever they were on. Despite the cold, sweat broke out on their faces. Her brother didn’t look much better.
“She’s not going to say anything. The last thing she wants to do is get me in trouble.” The assurance her brother tried to put into his words fell short, making him sound more like a sniveling child.
“You do that all on your own,” she snapped, glar- ing at all of them. She stood up, realizing too late she didn’t quite have her head on straight yet. Dizzy, she stumbled a step, then caught herself. She spotted her clothes tossed a few feet away and rushed toward them, hoping to grab them, run to her horse, and get the hell out of there before things got worse. She definitely didn’t want to get hit again. The fear building in her gut that the devil dude might make good on his omi- nous threats, both spoken and unspoken, made bile rise to the back of her throat. She needed to get away now, before it was too late.
She wrapped her arms around herself, warding off another round of shivers, not all of which resulted from the cold, but the bone-deep fear they might not let her go.
“Where do you think you’re going?” The devil dude grabbed her arm and spun her around. She took him by surprise, stepping in close and kneeing him in the nuts. He fell to his knees, his hands on his balls, the knife sticking out toward her.
“Sadie, no,” her brother shouted.
“I’ll make you regret that, bitch.” The devil dude lunged for her.
She expected him to grab her, but she couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. His hands clamped on to her shoulders. The knife handle dug into her arm, but fear for her life made her act. She brought her arms up and broke his hold. Surprise showed in his eyes, but they narrowed with determination. He grabbed her wrist and yanked her forward. She plowed into his chest with a thump. His cold leather jacket chilled her skin even more. He wrapped his arms around her back, squeezing her close. She head-butted him, hitting him more on the chin than nose than she’d like. He shoved her back to the ground and swiped the back of his hand over his face. Slumped in the dirt and grass, she stared up at him, trying to clear the haze from her aching head and vision, wishing she’d broken his nose.
She tried to think fast, but the guy came after her again, falling to his knees, straddling her hips. His heavy weight pushed her butt into the soft earth, and a jagged rock dug into her spine. He pressed the knife to her neck. The menacing smile on his face reinforced the dangerous look in his eyes. He’d do it. He’d kill her and not think twice about it.
Jennifer Ryan is the New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of The Hunted Series and The McBrides Series. She writes romantic suspense and contemporary small-town romances featuring strong men and equally resilient women. Her stories are filled with love, family, friendship, and the happily-ever-after we all hope to find.
Jennifer lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three children. When she isn’t writing a book, she’s reading one. Her obsession with both is often revealed in the state of her home and in how late dinner is to the table. When she finally leaves those fictional worlds, you’ll find her in the garden, playing in the dirt and daydreaming about people who live only in her head, until she puts them on paper.