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Rancher Under Fire: A Riveting Western Suspense (Love Inspired Suspense) by [Vickie McDonough]

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Rancher Under Fire: A Riveting Western Suspense (Love Inspired Suspense) Kindle Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 12 ratings

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Length: 222 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews

From the Author

Rancher Under Fire is a contemporary suspense novel--not the norm for this historical writer. There's lots of excitement in this book, and I cause all kinds of trouble for my hero, Jackson Durant. I hope you enjoy his story. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Mariah Reyes had to face the facts—she was lost. Hours of wandering on the desolate country roads of Northeastern Oklahoma had left her more confused than a chameleon in a bowl of Skittles.

She checked for oncoming cars—not that she'd seen more than one in the past half hour—then reached for the map on the passenger's seat. She peeked down at the line she'd drawn before leaving home that showed the way to Angelfire Ranch, but it didn't help. Glancing up, she jerked the steering wheel to the right to get her car back in her lane and willed her pulse to return to normal.

"This is crazy." She slowed the car, pulled onto the gravel shoulder and searched her purse for her phone. Maybe she could find her way using the built-in GPS and maps. She turned it on and opened the map app. She'd already plugged in the address to Jackson Durant's ranch, but she hadn't wanted to risk driving while trying to follow the tiny GPS dot on her phone.

She studied the barren winter wilderness while she waited for the map to load. Tall, yellow grass fluttered in the wind, and the few leaves still clinging to the almost-bald trees waved at her. The land here wasn't as flat as the Dallas area, and there were more trees, but the emptiness of the countryside after the busyness of the big city left her feeling isolated.

She checked her phone. With only one bar on her cell, the map wouldn't load. "That's great." Mariah tossed the phone onto the passenger's seat and blew out a sigh. So much for modern technology.

Now what?

She'd passed a farm several miles back, but she hated asking for help. She shifted the car in gear and drove forward. Just a few more miles, and if she didn't find Angel-fire Ranch, she'd turn around or ask someone for directions.

Fifteen minutes later, she pulled into a parking lot containing half a dozen trucks and a single gray sedan. She looped her arm through her purse straps and read the name of the establishment made from cement blocks painted an icky avocado-green: Tank Up—Gas and Bar. She shook her head. "Only in Oklahoma."

A Coke and some chocolate would do a lot to improve her mood. She grabbed her map, pressed the remote to lock the car and headed into the store. Loud music, smoke and the odor of burned pizza greeted her.

A slim clerk dressed in denim, boots and a cowboy hat nodded. "Howdy, ma'am." His gaze dropped to the map in her hand. "Can I he'p you find somethin'?"

She smiled. "Just let me grab a Coke first."

Mariah surveyed her surroundings—something she did as a habit. Probably the reporter in her wanting to know everything that was happening. The right side of the building housed a small convenience store while the left opened up to tables, chairs and a bar on the far wall. Neon signs shone through the cloud of smoke that hovered above a table where four men played cards and drank beer. The country music blaring from an old jukebox in the far corner whined a song she didn't recognize. The buzz of conversation stopped, and the men at the table, along with another guy talking to the bartender, turned to gawk at her.

Mariah spun around, snatched a candy bar off the rack and made a beeline for the soda fountain. Thanks to her father, men made her nervous, especially ones who were indulging in liquor. She never knew what to expect from them. Three years as an investigative reporter had boosted her courage and made her much more outgoing, but being the only woman with seven men—some of whom were drinking—increased her anxiety.

She filled a disposable cup then hurried to the counter and paid for her items. She eyed a slice of cheese pizza in a warmer behind the clerk but decided she didn't need the carbs. Glancing back at the clerk, she fished her wallet from her purse. "Could you please tell me how to find Angelfire Ranch?"

The young cowboy smiled. "Sure thang, ma'am. Just head north four miles or so until you see a broken-down hay baler in a field then turn right. You'll see the big Angelfire sign after a few minutes. Cain't miss it."

She wanted to ask what a hay baler looked like, but several of the men from the table had risen and were ambling her way. Mariah gathered her things and rushed out the door. She didn't breathe a sigh of relief until she turned her Mustang onto the road again.

She made note of the mileage so she could tell when she'd traveled four miles. At least she was closer to Angelfire Ranch than she'd thought.

A motion in the rearview mirror snagged Mariah's attention. A black truck—no two—spun out of the store's parking lot and were approaching fast.

Mariah pressed down the gas pedal, keeping watch on the odometer, the road and the trucks. Did they just happen to leave at the same time? Or were they following her?

She glanced at the speedometer—seven miles per hour over the speed limit—and the nearest truck was still closing the space between them. Mariah grasped the wheel harder, and her pulse jumped into overdrive. Just when she thought the first truck would ram her, it whizzed into the other lane and passed her. She glanced in the passenger window of the second truck as it also zoomed by, but the tinting was too dark for her to see through.

She relaxed her grip on the wheel and blew out an irritated breath. "Show-offs!"

As the second black truck passed her, she looked for the tag number, but the lower half of the vehicle was covered in mud. Suddenly, the truck swerved back into her lane, and the taillights lit up. The gap between her car and the pickup narrowed. Mariah slammed on her brakes and swerved into the other lane, tires squealing. A quick glance revealed no oncoming traffic. Her left rear tire dropped off the tarred edge, and she struggled to get it back on the road. Gravel chunked against the underbelly of her car. She jerked the wheel to the right, bumped up onto the asphalt and slowed to a stop on the center line. The truck sped down the road and disappeared around the corner.

Mariah's heart pounded.

What just happened?

Had that driver deliberately tried to run her off the road?

Blowing out a breath, Mariah checked for traffic then pulled onto the right side of the road again. She wasn't easily scared, but the randomness of the attack left her trembling. Maybe the driver had drunk too much liquor—or maybe mistaken her for someone else. Or maybe he was hotdogging. That was the only thing that made sense.

She glanced at the odometer, glad to see she had only another mile until the turnoff to Jackson Durant's ranch. She hoped he was ready for her, because she aimed to get the real story about why he quit football in the midst of an undefeated season, not the fluff Where Are They Now? piece her editor wanted.

In the field to her right, she spied a rusty heap of equipment, which must be the hay baler since it was the only farm apparatus around. The road to Angelfire stretched out past the end of the fence line. "Finally!"

A movement straight ahead caught her eye. A black truck crept over the next hill, which was several hundred yards past the turnoff. Mariah's heart jolted. Was it the same truck that had nearly caused her to crash?

She wasn't waiting around to find out. She pressed on the gas, but as the Mustang charged forward like a thoroughbred from a starting gate, so did the truck. Mariah eyed the distance to the turnoff, keeping a death grip on the steering wheel. Just a few more yards.

The truck veered into her lane, barreling toward her.

Mariah swung the wheel a bit early, hoping she didn't land in the ditch. She had to make this turn. Her tires squealed as the rear end of her car swept around the corner then fishtailed. She righted it just as the truck reached the turn. Mariah stomped the gas pedal to the floor. The store clerk had said she'd see the sign to Angelfire Ranch in a few minutes, but she reached it in one. She slowed down to make the turn onto the ranch's gravel road.

Would the truck follow her onto private property?

If it did, she'd be ready. This was one driver she'd take delight in using her Taser on.

Jackson Durant hugged his daughter, enjoying her laughter.

Hailey released her hold on his neck and pushed back to look him in the face. "Toss me up again, Daddy."

"One more time. Then we need to get back to work." He lowered her to the ground, and Hailey squatted down then jumped. Jackson lifted her and pitched her up a couple of feet into the air over his head. He wouldn't be able to toss his six-year-old like this much longer. He lowered her back down, amid girlish giggles, and squeezed her shoulder. "Time to get busy."

He retrieved the yearling he'd tied to the paddock fence and led her out into the yard. The black filly would make a good saddle horse one day, but she still needed some work.

"Can I lead her?"

Jackson peered down at his daughter's pixie face, remembering again how close he had come to losing her the day she was born. A deep ache gutted his insides even worse than the pain he'd felt when he walked away from quarter-backing an undefeated team on its way to the Super Bowl. He couldn't imagine—didn't want to imagine—what his life would be like without his daughter.

Every day her brown eyes and sweet smile looked more and more like her mother's. Would he be reminded of his wife's betrayal for the rest of his life, just by looking into his daughter's face?

As if sensing his troubled thoughts, Baron licked Jackson's hand. He reached down and patted the border collie's black-and-white head. No, Hailey might look like Misty, but his daughter didn't have her mother's shallow character. Once again he slammed the lid on the anger bubbling up at the thought of Misty's disloyalty. Though the familiar pain had numbed a bit over the years, whenever he thought of his deceased wife, it threatened to rise to the surface again, disturbing his peace with God.

"Hello…Da-addy?" Stretching onto the tiptoes of her tan cowboy boots, Hailey waved her hand back and forth in front of his face.

The black filly on the other end of the lead rope in Jackson's hand shook her head and snorted, wary of his daughter's flapping arm. "Hey, settle down," he said to both females. Grasping the horse's halter, he stared at his daughter. "Hailey, you know better than to make any sudden movements around these green broke horses."

Nostrils flaring and the whites of her eyes showing, the filly attempted to jerk her head free of his hold.

Jackson held the small horse secure, rubbing her neck. "Shh. You're okay."

"Daddy?" Hailey patted Jackson's stomach. "So…can I lead her around?"

"Just a minute." Jackson observed the black filly for a few moments. When she quieted, he released her halter but hung on to the coiled lead rope. The horse ducked her head, nibbling the ankle-high winter grass at his feet.

He patted the filly's shoulder. Had she calmed enough for Hailey to handle her? He breathed a deep sigh. Did every father wrestle with the issues he did, or was his daily struggle to find a balance with Hailey and duties at the ranch related to his being an overprotective single dad? He wanted to keep his daughter safe but not smother her. His gaze lifted across the ranch yard to the horses grazing peacefully in the pasture. His daughter loved horses as much as he, and she had never been afraid of them, not even as a toddler. Though he wanted to hold her back until she was older—and bigger—Hailey knew how to handle horses, even if her childishness sometimes overpowered her sensibilities. He patted his daughter's back. "I guess you can lead the filly for a while, but don't make any sudden movements, and don't go too far in case you need me."

"Yip—" Hailey slapped her palm to her mouth, halting her high-pitched cheer. Her gaze darted to the filly and back to him as she lowered her hand. "Sorry. I'll be quieter."

Chuckling, he handed the lead rope to his daughter. What was the point in trying to keep her away from the horses? She loved them and was a natural. Pride swelled in his chest as he watched Hailey curl up the nylon rope with the skill of one raised her whole life on a ranch. Holding the coil in one hand, she clutched the lead just below the snap and walked the yearling down the gravel drive.

"C'mon, girl. You and me's gonna be buddies." Baron trotted along behind them for a few feet, but then he turned and moseyed back to Jackson's side.

Shoving his hands in his pockets, Jackson scanned the well-kept ranch. The gray single-story house provided a cozy escape from the hot Oklahoma summers and chilly winters. His new red barn, complete with modern amenities like a sprinkler system and a bathroom with a shower, had stalls for twelve horses and was the envy of his neighbors. Across the rolling hills, quarter horses grazed lazily in the unusually warm December weather. His chest swelled as gratitude filled his heart—but then he remembered the dark shadows of recent days, and his gaze lifted. Thank You, Lord, for allowing me to realize my dream of owning this ranch. Please help me figure out the root of the problems plaguing me lately. They can't be coincidences.

Pursing his lips, he watched Hailey turn the filly and head toward him. So far his problems hadn't caused her any harm, except for upsetting her. He considered all the things that had happened in the past few weeks—broken fences, missing equipment, sick horses. Was he simply having a run of bad luck?

"Don't ya think she'll make a good barrel racer? I'm gonna name her Sabrina."

"That's a fine name." He smiled. Hailey had to name every horse that passed through their ranch, whether it stayed for a week or forever. While at Angelfire Ranch, the animals were treated like family. Sometimes the rodeo owners and other people he sold the horses to kept the names his daughter had given them and sometimes they changed them, but Hailey didn't care as long as she gave them their first one.

The familiar ta-dump, ta-dump of tires crossing the cattle guard pulled his gaze down the long gravel drive. Though people frequented the ranch often, he wasn't expecting anyone today. He studied the approaching vehicle—a sports car that was going far too fast.

He started toward his daughter. "Hailey, bring the filly back. Right now."

Hailey stopped in the middle of the road and stared at the car, barreling toward her. Jackson increased his pace. His daughter tugged the prancing horse off the road and onto the dried winter grass. The filly pawed the ground. The closer the sports car came, the more agitated she grew.

Baron barked. Jackson broke into a run. A shrill whinny rent the air as the black filly reared, her front hooves pawing the air just inches above Hailey's head. Jackson's heart took a dive. He raced toward her, but his legs felt as if they were encased in cement.

"Let go! Hailey! Let go of the rope." His words sounded hollow, as if shouted down a long, narrow tunnel. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

Product details

  • Publication Date : September 1, 2014
  • Publisher : Love Inspired Suspense; Original Edition (September 1, 2014)
  • Print Length : 222 pages
  • File Size : 573 KB
  • Language: : English
  • Word Wise : Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
  • Text-to-Speech : Enabled
  • X-Ray : Not Enabled
  • Screen Reader : Supported
  • Lending : Not Enabled
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.6 out of 5 stars 12 ratings

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