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Authors: Firebrand

Sandra Chastain

BOOK: Sandra Chastain
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Firebrand
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

A Loveswept eBook Edition

Copyright © 1991 by Sandra Chastain.
Excerpt from
Flirting with Disaster
by Ruthie Knox copyright © 2013 by Ruth Homrighaus.
Excerpt from
The Story Guy
by Mary Ann Rivers copyright © 2013 by Mary Ann Hudson.
Excerpt from
’Til the End of Time
by Iris Johansen copyright © 1986 by Iris Johansen.

All Rights Reserved.

Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

L
OVESWEPT
is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.

Firebrand
was originally published in paperback by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. in 1991.

Cover Design: Derek Walls
Cover Photograph: © James McLoughlin

eISBN: 978-0-345-54172-7

www.ReadLoveSwept.com

v3.1

With appreciation to the State of Utah Travel Council, the Executive Staff at the Little America Hotel and Towers,

and most especially to

Pauline S. Biesinger and the staff of Coldwell Banker Premier, Inc. who furnished me with information about the lovely state of Utah.

One

Rusty Wilder peeled off her dusty black Stetson and slapped it against her thigh as she entered the Salt Lake City airport. Her nerves were tied in knots over the coming meeting with Cade McCall.

She was late. And she wasn’t at all certain that the choice she’d made had been wise. She’d had a number of replies to her advertisement. Many of the applicants were obviously not the caliber of man she was looking for. They were eliminated right away. Three possibles she’d turned over to a detective agency in Salt Lake City for investigation. Cade McCall, the man she was meeting, was the best of the respondents.

Rusty took a deep, ragged breath. She felt cold, even inside the heated airport. She knew the icy spot she felt in the pit of her stomach was from the nagging doubt that she might be making a mistake. She was about to take the biggest gamble of her life. From the outside, she appeared to be a
tough, self-sufficient woman, but deep inside she was scared to death.

The only thing she was sure of was that it was March, the start of the breeding season on Silverwild Ranch, when a rancher counted the calves born during the past winter and made plans for the coming year.

By fall a new bull, imported from Africa, would be changing the future of her herd. And if today’s meeting went right, she would have a husband by her side, changing the future of Silverwild.

If Walt Wilder were alive, Rusty was certain that he’d disapprove of his daughter running an ad to find a man. But Rusty knew what she was doing. Oh, there’d been plenty of men willing to marry Walt Wilder’s daughter ten years ago, and even more now, eager to marry Ben Middleton’s widow.

But none of them met her criteria. Silverwild was hers, and she intended to run it her way, without interference from anyone—including a husband. Her father had told her often enough that she would never be a beauty queen but she could be the best rancher in the state. She’d believed him on both counts, even if he had doubted her in the end. Well, she’d show him. She’d show them all.

On his deathbed, Walt Wilder had asked for two promises from Rusty, his only child. The first was that she would marry his partner, Ben. The second, that she’d have children.

Rusty had tried to keep those promises. The marriage, however, had been a mistake. Ben tried to be a real husband to her, but he could never see her as a woman or grant her an equal voice in running Silverwild. To Ben, Rusty had always
been Walt’s girl, practically his own. But the worst part for Rusty had been Ben’s limited imagination and his reluctance to take chances. Their eight-year marriage had left Silverwild stagnant and Rusty childless.

A husband like Cade McCall would solve both her problems, Rusty reasoned. He’d father her children and stand between her and the other ranchers who derided her unconventional ideas. Yet Cade McCall would be an employee, with no say in running the ranch.

Granted, McCall or one of the other candidates was being hired for more duties than the typical wrangler. But her business was breeding cattle, and she tried to think of the arrangement strictly in those terms. McCall was a man, of course, and not a prize bull. The end result, however, would be the same. And quickly, she hoped. At thirty-two, Rusty had started to think about her biological clock running out.

Could McCall turn her down? Maybe he’d take one look at her and run the other way. She’d neither sent a picture nor asked for one in return. She had meant to clean herself up for their first meeting, but tending a sick cow all morning had left her no time to change her clothes or wrestle with her hair. But perhaps it was better to meet him looking this way, leaving the man no illusions.

She knew by now that her looks didn’t exactly inspire male fantasies. She was too tall and too outspoken. Her red hair was wild, and her long, lean body not quite the softly curving female ideal men desired. Ben had been her only real lover. Then, after about a year of marriage, his heart
trouble put an end to their infrequent sessions of lovemaking.

Rusty just didn’t know how to play man-woman games and didn’t intend to start learning now. McCall didn’t have to fall in love with her, she reasoned. He didn’t even have to like her. All he had to do was agree to her proposition. What red-blooded oil-field roustabout would pass up a chance to marry one of the wealthiest women in Utah and own twenty-five percent of the biggest cattle ranch in the state?

Not Cade McCall. She’d be willing to bet on it. His reply to her ad had been short and to the point. He needed a job and a home for the daughter he was raising on his own. Beyond that, Rusty knew only that he was thirty-seven years old and in good physical health. Raised in Tennessee, he had enlisted in the coast guard out of high school. He was stationed in South Carolina and Washington State. After the service, he worked his way to Alaska, ending up with a job on the pipeline.

He’d never been to Utah and knew nothing about ranching—a definite plus in Rusty’s book. His six-year-old daughter, Pixie, was also an unexpected bonus. Rusty was sure McCall would see that Silverwild was a wonderful place to raise a child.

Cade McCall would not turn her down. She would explain it all to him in just the right way. Even the part about giving her children. She would deal it straight to him. The winning cards were all in her hand, she reminded herself. She was the one in control here.

She swallowed hard and studied the few people
milling around the airport waiting room. Where was he?

Across the concourse Cade McCall was asking himself the very same question about his prospective employer. Then the staccato tap of boots on the polished floor attracted his attention. The woman who came into view was a stunning eyeful. He watched her stop and pull off a dusty black Stetson, her mass of red hair falling tousled and wild across her shoulders. Cade had to catch himself from sighing out loud.

She seemed to be looking for someone but had taken no notice of him yet. He didn’t mind. He was savoring his chance to take in every inch of her with an unguarded stare. Her green eyes were full of fire, the kind that could burn a man alive. A fleece-lined denim jacket ended just above a pair of jean-clad legs that would be the envy of any Las Vegas show girl. She turned her long, graceful body slowly, scanning the room.

Then Cade sighed. The gorgeous redhead sure wasn’t looking for him. The woman he’d come here to meet was probably sixty-five and built like a Mack truck. She probably had a face that could stop a clock. Not one like the redhead’s that could bewitch a man for a lifetime.

No matter. Cade knew he had little choice about taking this job if it was offered. His mind ran back over the ad:

Utah widow with large cattle ranch offers home and permanent employment with future advancement to single, divorced, or widowed
man meeting certain qualifications. Mutually agreeable contract after six-month trial period. No experience necessary. Children welcome.

That had been the clincher. A home for Pixie and a job for himself, with “no experience necessary.”

He had just made the last payment on his ex-wife’s funeral, bringing his bank account to rock bottom. It seemed the right thing to do. Janie had been his wife once, and she was his child’s mother. He’d also had medical bills to pay, some of Janie’s and some for Pixie’s last attack of bronchitis and pneumonia. The child had to be moved to a milder climate. But moving anywhere took cash. He was flat broke and tense as a grizzly bear waking up from hibernation.

Finding the ad seemed like a stroke of luck, even though he had his suspicions about the wording. Cade suspected the woman was looking for a husband, even if she didn’t say so. Another reason the redhead could not be looking for him. A woman like that would never need to put herself up on the auction block. She was no loved-starved widow who had to advertise in a farm journal for a husband.

The redhead continued her slow searching look around the room. When her gaze finally crossed his, she visibly took in a quick breath. Cade felt the intensity of her stare, a connection sizzling between them like northern lights flashing in a midnight sky.

Maybe he’d been in the wilderness too long. It had been a long time since a woman’s mere glance had set off such a powerful reaction. He felt his
body tighten, pulling taut as a bowstring, holding him in place. Like two wild animals, wary and suspicious, they measured each other from a distance for a long tense moment.

Then she began to walk toward him. Could he hope? Could he dream? She stood inches away, and still he didn’t dare to believe this breathtaking vision was his very own “Utah widow.”

“McCall?” she finally asked him. Fighting back the urge to turn and run, she gave him a nervous half-smile and held out her hand.

Cade was stunned. She had a husky bedroom voice that was unexpected but suited her perfectly.

He stepped forward, removed his glove, and shook her hand. There was no disguising the firmness of her grip or the hesitant quiver in her fingertips.

“I’m McCall,” he said simply.

“I’m Rusty Wilder. Let’s go.”

How could he have been so wrong? A Mack truck? A face that could stop a clock? Stunned, he couldn’t seem to settle on anything except the fire in her red hair and the flicker of unease in her eyes.

He nodded, picked up his duffel bag, and followed her to the airport exit.

“My plane is right over there,” she said, pointing to a trim white Cessna 152 that was parked nearby. It had red stripes and the word
Silverwild
painted across the side in silver.

“You can toss your bag in the back,” Rusty told him as she opened the passenger-side door. She walked around the other side and climbed into the pilot seat, thankful for the momentary distraction of preparing for takeoff.

She knew that the meeting would be awkward at first. But no past experience with an employee interview had prepared her to handle a man like Cade McCall.

He was dressed in jeans, workboots, and a leather bomber jacket with the collar turned up around his neck. A black baseball cap covered his head and shaded his dark eyes, the kind Rusty knew a woman could easily get lost in. His heavy five-o’clock shadow might have been unattractive on another man, but on McCall it only served to accentuate the masculinity of a disturbingly handsome face.

BOOK: Sandra Chastain
12.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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