by R. C. Ryan


by R. C. Ryan

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Wild at Heart . . .

Jake Conway is good with his hands. A veterinarian known for his gentle touch, he's also the most eligible bachelor in Wyoming. But like any wild animal, Jake longs to roam free . . . until a sultry redhead with a smile from here to heaven turns up in town.

When her estranged father dies, Meg Stanford inherits his rustic ranch-and all the painful memories that come with it. She's determined to settle the estate and face down the ghosts of her past. But a series of midnight break-ins have Meg running from the ranch-and into the arms of the sexy cowboy next door. As their passion grows hotter, the attacks grow bolder. Can Jake keep her safe, or will he lose the only woman he's ever loved?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781455502448
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 02/26/2013
Series: A Wyoming Sky Novel , #3
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 267,242
Product dimensions: 4.40(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.01(d)

About the Author

New York Times bestselling author R.C. Ryan has written more than ninety novels, both contemporary and historical. Quite an accomplishment for someone who, after her fifth child'started school, gave herself the gift of an hour a day to follow her dream to become a writer.

In a career spanning more than twenty years, Ms. Ryan has given dozens of radio, television, and print interviews across the country and Canada, and has been quoted in such diverse publications as the Wall Street Journal and Cosmopolitan. She has also appeared on CNN News and Good Morning America.

R.C. Ryan is a pseudonym of New York Times bestselling author Ruth Ryan Langan.

You can learn more about R. C. Ryan and her alter ego Ruth Ryan Langan at:
Twitter, @RuthRyanLangan

Read an Excerpt


By R.C. Ryan

Grand Central Publishing

Copyright © 2013 R.C. Ryan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4555-0244-8


Paintbrush, Wyoming—Present Day

Thanks, Jake." The grizzled rancher pumped Jake Conway's hand hard enough to have him wincing. "Figured old Scout here had seen his last sunset. I tried every home remedy I could think of." The old man grinned. "Hated having to give in and pay a vet. You know how it is."

Jake nodded in understanding. Every rancher in these parts knew how to birth a calf, treat a lame horse, and cure the hundred-and-one things that could go wrong with ranch animals. A veterinarian was called only in extreme circumstances, or when an animal had to be put down and its owner couldn't bear to do the deed.

"Looks like I'd better start calling you Doc." The old rancher winked at his teenage granddaughter, who was practically swooning over the handsome young veterinarian as though he were a Greek god.

His wife, standing beside their daughter, thrust a covered plate into Jake's hands. "Brownies," the older woman said with a shy smile. "Our Tina here baked them herself."

"Thank you, Anna. And thank you, Tina. How'd you know about my sweet tooth?" Jake turned that famous Conway smile on both females, who audibly sighed.

The old rancher couldn't suppress a grin. The women in his household were all smitten with Cole Conway's youngest son. Word in the tiny town of Paintbrush was that Jake Conway had the same effect on every female there from sixteen to sixty. It had been that way since Jake was twelve or thirteen, and still trailing his older brothers around town wearing a sweaty T-shirt, dusty denims, and one of his grandfather's cast-off frayed, wide-brimmed cowboy hats. As he'd matured, he'd grown into a tall, muscled cowboy, whose rugged good looks were enhanced by a spill of curly black hair always in need of a trim, and devilish blue eyes that sparkled with unmistakable humor. A big part of his charm was that good-natured, roguish smile. Women just gravitated to him like bees to honey.

"I guess what I've heard around town is the truth. You're some kind of miracle worker."

"Not me. I've got miracle drugs." Jake smiled and patted his pocket before tucking away the syringe and vial. "Just doing my job, Will."

"The way I see it, thanks to that fancy vet school in Michigan, you're doing it even better'n old Doc Hunger did. And that's saying something."

Jake couldn't hide his pleasure at the compliment. It meant the world to him that the ranchers accepted him without question. Not an easy task when they still thought of the youngest Conway son as a lightweight compared to his father, grandfather, and two older brothers.

At his truck, the two men shook hands again before Jake climbed inside and started toward home.

As he drove along the dusty road he played back his phone messages. One from Phoebe, their housekeeper, reminding him that Ela was baking her famous corn bread to go with the ham she'd put in the oven, and he'd better not be late.

His mouth was watering as he played the second message, this one from his brother Quinn, reminding him of dinner Saturday night as a surprise for his wife's birthday, and that if Cheyenne had so much as an inkling of what was planned, he'd know it was all Jake's fault for having a big mouth.

Jake was still grinning as the third message began. A woman's breathy voice, sounding either stressed or annoyed.

"This is Meg Stanford. I've just arrived at my father's ranch to dispose of his estate, and there's a colt out in the barn that appears to be lame. I'm not sure there's anything you can do for it, but I'd like you to ..." The voice paused for so long, Jake thought the call may have been interrupted. But then the message continued. "... do whatever it is you do with animals that are beyond help."

Unsure of what he'd heard, he played the message a second time before dismissing all thought of Ela's corn bread and ham from his mind. He made a sharp U-turn and headed toward the Stanford ranch.

As he drew near, it occurred to Jake that though Porter Stanford had been his family's nearest neighbor, he'd never before set foot on the property. He and his brothers had been warned when they were just boys that they were to stay clear of the rancher, whose volatile temper was well-known around these parts.

In the town of Paintbrush gossip spread quicker than a prairie fire, and the juicy tales about Porter Stanford before his sudden death days ago had all been negative. Folks around these parts just shook their heads over his hair-trigger temper, the hellish life his two ex-wives had endured at his hands, all of which they'd been eager to share with anyone who would listen, and of the fact that his third wife had been young enough to be his granddaughter. She'd died two years ago of a brain hemorrhage, leaving Porter with a young son.

Jake wondered about the woman claiming to be Porter's daughter. He could vaguely recall hearing about a wild child who matched her father in looks and temperament. But that was years ago, before Porter's very public first divorce, when she and her mother, Virginia, had taken themselves off to parts unknown.

Jake turned his truck onto the lane that led to the rustic ranch house. Nestled on a bluff, the house overlooked some of the richest grazing land in the territory. Now in early spring, the land was just turning green and was dotted with buds of Indian paintbrush and towering cottonwood. No wonder Porter Stanford had thought of himself as a king and all of Wyoming as his fiefdom. Maybe, Jake thought with sudden insight, that was another reason why Stanford had a particular dislike of the Conway family. Not only were they his nearest neighbors, but they owned all the land around him, leaving him unable to expand his kingdom.

Jake followed the curving driveway to the back door of the house and stepped out of his truck. A sleek, candy-apple-red rental car was parked beside the porch.

He climbed the wide porch steps and knocked.

A sexy female voice called, "Come in."

He stepped into a kitchen offering a spectacular view of the Tetons in the distance. Finding no one there, he stepped through the open doorway into a massive great room, where a woman was walking toward him, carrying a cardboard box that was bigger than she.

"Hello." Though he couldn't see the face, the view from the waist down was enticing. A tiny waist and long, long legs encased in narrow denims.

"Oh. Hello. If you want to take a look at the farm implements, you may as well start tagging the things out in the second barn."

"You're planning an auction?"

She peered around the box. "Aren't you from the auction house?"

"No. Sorry. I'm the vet. Here. Let me help you." He took the box from her hands. "Where do you want this?"

"The kitchen table will be fine." She led the way and Jake followed.

As he set down the heavy box he shot her a grin. "What've you got in there? A safe?"

She sighed. "Sorry. I should have warned you. I found several locked metal boxes in an upstairs room and thought I'd bring them down before opening them to see what's inside." She offered her hand. "I'm Meg Stanford."

Jake accepted her handshake and took the moment to study her. She had her father's fiery red hair, pulled back into a ponytail, and green eyes the color of prairie grass.

"Jake Conway." He was fascinated by her lips. Soft, pursed lips that, though bare of makeup, were absolutely enticing. "I'm sorry about your loss."

"Thank you." She spoke the words in a flat, unemotional tone. "You said you were the vet. I was expecting Dr. Hunger."

"He retired. His service directs his calls to me."

"I see." She nodded toward the door. "I'll take you to the barn."

Jake trailed behind her, enjoying the view of her trim backside in the shiny, new denims. They were so crisp they looked as though they'd just come off a store rack, as did the cotton shirt buttoned clear to her throat and tucked precisely into the waistband.

He glanced at her feet. Even the sneakers were brand-new, though they wouldn't remain that way once she stepped into the barn.

"How long have you been here?"

"Since this morning."

"Where are you from?"

She paused, her hand on the barn door. "Washington."

"As in Spokane?"

She smiled. "As in D.C."

"You're a long way from home. What do you do there?"

"I'm a lawyer."

His smile deepened. "That explains the new duds. I'd never mistake you for a rancher."

That brought a smile, transforming her face from pretty to gorgeous. "My usual wardrobe runs to tailored suits and heels. I figured I'd need something more practical for the week I plan on being here."

"A week?"

She nodded. "My vacation time. Not exactly the way I'd hoped to be spending it. I haven't been back to this place since I was a kid. I honestly never expected to see it again."

She lowered her voice. "As you can imagine, I've forgotten more than I can remember about ranch animals. The colt has a pronounced limp. I thought I'd ask a vet to take a look and advise me as to the best way to ... deal with it." Her voice lowered to a near-whisper, as though she were sharing state secrets. "If you have to euthanize the colt, I'd appreciate it if you would take it with you rather than do it here. There's the boy ..." When she faltered, Jake waited until she composed herself. "My father's sudden death wasn't my only surprise. I've learned that I have a half brother. I'm not sure of his birthday, but I'm guessing he's about seven. I suspect that he was alone here when our father had his heart attack. That may be why he doesn't speak—at least not to me. But he seems really attached to the colt. That's why ..." She looked at the ground. "... I'd rather not add to the boy's suffering."

"All right." Jake nodded toward the door. "Let's have a look."

She opened the barn door and led the way to a stall. As Jake's eyes adjusted to the gloom, he could see the colt lying in the straw, its head cradled in the lap of a blond, shaggy-haired boy in dirty denims and an even dirtier T-shirt.

Meg's tone was cautious. "Cory, this is Dr. Conway. I asked him to take a look at your colt."

"Hey, Cory." Jake knelt beside the boy and ran a hand gently over the colt's forelock. "Does your horse have a name?"

The boy merely stared at him.

"Can your horse stand?"

Cory shuffled out from under the horse's head and got to his feet before tugging gently on the animal's mane.

The colt scrambled to its feet.

Jake pointed toward the door. "Would you mind leading him outside?"

Without a word the boy led the horse out into the sunshine, with Jake and Meg following.

The animal's limp, Jake noted, was pronounced.

He watched as the boy led the colt in a wide circle. When they were close, Jake ran a hand along the animal's neck. "He's a real beauty."

The faintest flicker of a smile touched the boy's eyes before he looked away.

"Has he always had this limp, or is it a recent injury?"

The boy shrugged.

Jake decided to try again. "Was he born with this problem, Cory?"

The boy shook his head.

"So, this happened recently?"

"Yeah." The boy sighed, as though the weight of the world rested on his shoulders.

"Okay. It's a start." Relieved that the boy could speak, Jake glanced toward Meg.

She covered her mouth with her hand to hide the slight trembling, and he thought for a moment she might cry in relief. Instead he saw her suck in a quick breath and compose herself.

Jake bent to the animal's leg and began gently probing. When he touched one particular spot the colt flattened its ears and sidestepped.

"Tender. Did your horse take a fall?"

The boy shook his head. "No."

"Was he hit by something?"

The boy shrugged his thin shoulders.

"Maybe by a stone thrown by a truck?"

Seeing that the boy didn't intend to reply, he added, "Maybe he was attacked by a flying saucer?"

That had Cory smiling before he ducked his head.

Jake glanced at Meg, who stood with her arms crossed, watching the interaction between the two with quiet intensity.

"All right. Let's try something else. Walk him again, Cory."

As the boy did so, Jake moved along beside the colt and probed not only the leg but the animal's underbelly as he took each step.

When he straightened, Meg asked in a low voice, "Will you be able to take him with you?"

Jake shrugged. "I'd like to try treating him here."

"Treating? I thought ..." She looked at Cory, then away before whispering, "I thought vets had to put down a horse when it was lame."

"I guess that was the treatment of choice back when women didn't have the vote, and ranchers chewed tobacco and played poker in the town saloon. Nowadays, ma'am," he added in his best drawl, "you wouldn't believe the miracle drugs we have."

She had a rich, throaty laugh. "I guess I deserved that. All right, Dr. Conway. I'll leave you to your patient. I have work to do in the house."

When she walked away Jake watched until she'd climbed the steps. Turning, he saw the boy staring at him.

He winked. "You've got a pretty sister, Cory."

The boy hung his head and absently patted the colt.

Jake touched a hand to the boy's shoulder. "I'm sorry about the loss of your dad."

Cory glanced up at him. There was an eager, almost hungry look in his eyes. "Did you know him?"

Jake shook his head. "Not really. I knew who he was, and saw him in town a time or two, but other than that, he was a stranger. I guess he kept to himself a lot."

The eager look in the boy's eyes was gone in the instant before he looked away. "Yeah."

After a pronounced silence, Jake sighed. "While you take this little guy back to the stall, I'll get my bag of tricks."

He walked away and retrieved his supplies from his truck. Spying the plate of brownies, he took them along.

In the barn he took his time, examining the colt while trying to find ways to engage the boy in conversation.

"How old are you, Cory?"

"Seven." His gaze followed every movement of Jake's fingers as he touched and probed the colt's leg.

"That would make you a second grader?"

The boy shrugged. "Don't go to school."

"Yeah. I never did either, when I was your age. Too far to town." He looked over. "So, you're homeschooled. Did your dad teach you?"

Another shrug. "Now that I can read, I get the lessons out of books and do my class assignments online."

"Who checks your homework?"

"I scan it and send it to the teacher assigned to me."

"Did anybody live here on the ranch with you and your dad?"

"Yancy. But he doesn't live with us. He stays in the bunkhouse."

Jake heard the warmth in the boy's tone and nodded. He'd heard that Yancy Jessup had taken over some of the ranch duties after Porter's young wife died. Yancy was one of the last of a dying breed. A cowboy with no desire to own his own spread. An old man who preferred living in a bunkhouse with other cowboys. A drifter who loved tending other rancher's herds, until the itch to move on became too great. Yancy Jessup had worked ranches all over Montana and Wyoming, and his work was universally praised. Nobody had ever had a bad word to say about him.

"I suppose Yancy's up in the hills with the herd?"


"Does he know about your dad?"

The boy looked stricken, and Jake realized that the cowboy had no idea that his boss had passed away.

Jake pulled out his cell phone. "Give me his number and I'll see that your sister calls him as soon as I'm finished here."

As Cory spoke the numbers, Jake programmed them into his phone. "I'd call Yancy myself, but I think this call should come from a family member." He looked over. "Do you have a cell phone?"

Cory nodded.

"Good. While I'm thinking about it, why don't I give you my number? That way, if you need me, just call."

He spoke the numbers and watched as Cory punched them into his phone.

"Now give me yours." Jake added the numbers as Cory said them aloud.

For the next hour, while Cory soothed the colt, Jake applied ointment and wrapped the injured leg. When he was finished, he closed his bag and got to his feet.

"That's the best I can do for now. I'll look in on him tomorrow and see if he's improving."

The boy kept an arm around the colt's neck. "His name is Shadow."

Jake paused. "That's a good name. And you're a good friend to Shadow, Cory. I can see that he trusts you. Now I'd better report to your sister." He offered his hand. "Thanks for your help."

Excerpted from Jake by R.C. Ryan. Copyright © 2013 R.C. Ryan. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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