Justice at Cardwell Ranch (Harlequin Intrigue Series #1377)

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Overview

Six years ago, Dana Cardwell found her mother's will in a cookbook and became sole owner of the Cardwell Ranch in Big Sky, Montana. Now happily married, Dana is surprised when her siblings, Stacy and Jordan, show up on the ranch…and trouble isn't too far behind.

As danger draws closer to the ranch, deputy marshal Liza Turner quickly realizes that Jordan Cardwell isn't the man the town made him out to be.

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Justice at Cardwell Ranch (Harlequin Intrigue Series #1377)

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Overview

Six years ago, Dana Cardwell found her mother's will in a cookbook and became sole owner of the Cardwell Ranch in Big Sky, Montana. Now happily married, Dana is surprised when her siblings, Stacy and Jordan, show up on the ranch…and trouble isn't too far behind.

As danger draws closer to the ranch, deputy marshal Liza Turner quickly realizes that Jordan Cardwell isn't the man the town made him out to be.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Estranged eldest son returns to his Montana hometown to make amends to his family and solve the mystery of his best friend's death 20 years ago. The sequel to Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch (2011) finds Jordan Cardwell headed back to Big Sky, Mont., for his high school reunion at the request of Alex Winslow, a classmate who discovers evidence that their close friend, Tanner Cole, was murdered their senior year--rather than having committed suicide, as was ruled at the time. When Jordan tries to meet his old friend after-hours at a park, Alex is shot dead, raising Jordan's suspicions higher and setting him on a walk down memory lane he could well do without, as well as an investigative path through blackmail, betrayal and murder alongside the beautiful and intriguing Deputy Marshall of Big Sky, Liza Turner. Along the way, he must navigate prickly situations with the family he hasn't seen in six years, including his brother-in-law, Marshall Hud Savage, who's not happy about Jordan's return, much less his growing attachment to Liza, particularly since, as far as Hud is concerned, Jordan is the prime suspect. Unfortunately, despite a compelling premise and a solid framework for enthralling intrigue and a captivating romance, Daniels rarely captures the audience on either front. While there are moments of interest, the book is bogged down too often by clunky plotting, uneven characterization and hit-and-miss dialogue, not to mention a sprawling cast of characters and a dizzying amount of red herrings that make it seem as if the author herself isn't quite sure what's happening until the end of the book, when all the mean people get their just deserts and the hero and heroine their happily-ever-after. Die-hard Harlequin Intrigue and Daniels fans may like this book, but readers used to more even-keeled storytelling and heart-stopping turn-the-page mystery/suspense will likely be disappointed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780373696444
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 10/2/2012
  • Series: Harlequin Intrigue Series , #1377
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

USA Today bestselling author B.J. Daniels wrote her first book after a career as an award-winning newspaper journalist. Since then she has more than 40 short stories and 70 books in print. Her best-selling Harlequin Intrigue series, Whitehorse, Montana, has appeared on the USA Today bestselling list numerous times. She has also won a variety of awards including a Career Achievement Award for romantic suspense. Daniels lives in Montana with her husband, Parker.

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Read an Excerpt

The breeze rustled through the aspens, sending golden leaves whirling around him as Jordan Cardwell walked up the hill to the cemetery. He wore a straw Western hat he'd found on a peg by the back door of the ranch house.

He hadn't worn a cowboy hat since he'd left Montana twenty years ago, but this one kept his face from burning. It was so much easier to get sunburned at this high altitude than it was in New York City.

It was hot out and yet he could feel the promise of winter hiding at the edge of the fall day. Only the memory of summer remained in the Gallatin River Canyon. Cold nightly temperatures had turned the aspens to glittering shades of gold and orange against the dark green of the pines.

Below him he could hear the rushing water of the Gallatin as the river cut a deep winding course through the canyon. Across the river, sheer granite cliffs rose up to where the sun hung in a faded blue big Montana sky.

As he walked, the scent of crushed dry leaves beneath his soles sent up the remembered smell of other autumns. He knew this land. As hard as he'd tried to escape it, this place was branded on him, this life as familiar as his own heartbeat—even after all these years.

He thought of all the winters he'd spent in this canyon listening to the ice crack on the river, feeling the bite of snow as it blew off a pine bough to sting his face, breathing in a bone-deep cold that made his head ache.

He'd done his time here, he thought as he turned his face up to the last of the day's warmth before the sun disappeared behind the cliffs. Soon the aspens would be bare, the limbs dark against a winter-washed pale frosty sky. The water in the horse troughs would begin to freeze and so would the pooling eddies along the edge of the river. The cold air in the shade of the pines was a warning of what was to come, he thought as he reached the wrought-iron cemetery gate.

The gate groaned as he shoved it open. He hesitated. What was he doing here? Nearby the breeze sighed in the tops of the towering pines, drawing his attention to the dense stand. He didn't remember them being so tall. Or so dark and thick. As he watched the boughs sway, he told himself to make this quick. He didn't want to get caught here.

Even though it was a family cemetery, he didn't feel welcome here anymore. His own fault, but still, it could get messy if anyone from his family caught him on the ranch. He didn't plan to stick around long enough to see any of them. It was best that way, he told himself as he stepped through the gate into the small cemetery.

He'd never liked graveyards. Nor did it give him any comfort to know that more than a dozen remains of their relatives were interred here. He took no satisfaction in the long lineage of the Justice family, let alone the Cardwell one, in this canyon—unlike his sister.

Dana found strength in knowing that their ancestors had been mule-headed ranchers who'd weathered everything Montana had thrown at them to stay on this ranch. They'd settled this land along a stretch of the Gallatin, a crystal clear trout stream that ran over a hundred miles from Yellowstone Park to the Missouri River.

The narrow canyon got little sunlight each day. In the winter it was an icebox of frost and snow. Getting up to feed the animals had been pure hell. He'd never understood why any of them had stayed.

But they had, he thought as he surveyed the tombstones. They'd fought this land to remain here and now they would spend eternity in soil that had given them little in return for their labors.

A gust of wind rattled through the colorful aspen leaves and moaned in the high branches of the pines. Dead foliage floated like gold coins around him, showering the weather-bleached gravestones. He was reminded why he'd never liked coming up to this windblown hill. He found no peace among the dead. Nor had he come here today looking for it.

He moved quickly through the gravestones until he found the one stone that was newer than the others, only six years in the ground. The name on the tombstone read Mary Justice Cardwell.

"Hello, Mother," he said removing his hat as he felt all the conflicting emotions he'd had when she was alive. All the arguments came rushing back, making him sick at the memory. He hadn't been able to change her mind and now she was gone, leaving them all behind to struggle as a family without her.

He could almost hear their last argument whispered on the wind. "There is nothing keeping you here, let alone me," he'd argued. "Why are you fighting so hard to keep this place going? Can't you see that ranching is going to kill you?"

He recalled her smile, that gentle gleam in her eyes that infuriated him. "This land is what makes me happy, son. Someday you will realize that ranching is in our blood. You can fight it, but this isn't just your home. A part of your heart is here, as well."

"Like hell," he'd said. "Sell the ranch, Mother, before it's too late. If not for yourself and the rest of us, then for Dana. She's too much like you. She will spend her life fighting to keep this place. Don't do that to her."

"She'll keep this ranch for the day when you come back to help her run it."

"That's never going to happen, Mother."

Mary Justice Cardwell had smiled that knowing smile of hers. "Only time will tell, won't it?"

Jordan turned the hat brim nervously in his fingers as he looked down at his mother's grave and searched for the words to tell her how much he hated what she'd done to him. To all of them. But to his surprise he felt tears well in his eyes, his throat constricting on a gulf of emotion he hadn't anticipated.

A gust of wind bent the pine boughs and blew down to scatter dried leaves across the landscape. His skin rippled with goosebumps as he suddenly sensed someone watching him. His head came up, his gaze going to the darkness of the pines.

She was only a few yards away. He hadn't heard the woman on horseback approach and realized she must have been there the whole time, watching him.

She sat astride a large buckskin horse. Shadows played across her face from the swaying pine boughs. The breeze lifted the long dark hair that flowed like molten obsidian over her shoulders and halfway down her back.

There was something vaguely familiar about her. But if he'd known her years before when this was home, he couldn't place her now. He'd been gone too long from Montana.

And yet a memory tugged at him. His gaze settled on her face again, the wide-set green eyes, that piercing look that seemed to cut right to his soul.

With a curse, he knew where he'd seen her before—and why she was looking at him the way she was. A shudder moved through him as if someone had just walked over his grave.

Liza Turner had watched the man slog up the hill, his footsteps slow, his head down, as if he were going to a funeral. So she hadn't been surprised when he'd pushed open the gate to the cemetery and stepped in.

At first, after reining her horse in under the pines, she'd been mildly curious. She loved this spot, loved looking across the canyon as she rode through the groves of aspens and pines. It was always cool in the trees. She liked listening to the river flowing emerald-green below her on the hillside and taking a moment to search the granite cliffs on the other side for mountain sheep.

She hadn't expected to see anyone on her ride this morning. When she'd driven into the ranch for her usual trek, she'd seen the Cardwell Ranch pickup leaving and remembered that Hud was taking Dana into Bozeman today for her doctor's appointment. They were leaving the kids with Dana's best friend and former business partner, Hilde at Needles and Pins, the local fabric store.

The only other person on the ranch was the aging ranch manager, Warren Fitzpatrick. Warren would be watching Let's Make a Deal at his cabin this time of the morning.

So Liza had been curious and a bit leery when she'd first laid eyes on the stranger in the Western straw hat. As far as she knew, no one else should have been on the ranch today. So who was this tall, broad-shouldered cowboy?

Dana had often talked about hiring some help since Warren was getting up in years and she had her hands full with a four- and five-year-old, not to mention now being pregnant with twins.

But if this man was the new hired hand, why would he be interested in the Justice-Cardwell family cemetery? She felt the skin on the back of her neck prickle. There was something about this cowboy… His face had been in shadow from the brim of his hat. When he'd stopped at one of the graves and had taken his hat off, head bowed, she still hadn't been able to see more than his profile from where she sat astride her horse.

Shifting in the saddle, she'd tried to get a better look. He must have heard the creak of leather or sensed her presence. His head came up, his gaze darting right to the spot where she sat. He looked startled at first, then confused as if he was trying to place her.

She blinked, not sure she could trust her eyes. Jordan Cardwell?

He looked completely different from the arrogant man in the expensive three-piece suit she'd crossed paths with six years ago. He wore jeans, a button-up shirt and work boots. He looked tanned and stronger as if he'd been doing manual labor. There was only a hint of the earlier arrogance in his expression, making him more handsome than she remembered.

She saw the exact moment when he recognized her. Bitterness burned in his dark gaze as a small resentful smile tugged at his lips.

Oh, yes, it was Jordan Cardwell all right, she thought, wondering what had made her think he was handsome just moments before or—even harder to believe, that he might have changed.

Six years ago he'd been the number one suspect in a murder as well as a suspect in an attempted murder. Liza had been the deputy who'd taken his fingerprints.

She wondered now what he was doing not only back in the canyon, but also on the ranch he and his siblings had fought so hard to take from their sister Dana.

Dana Savage lay back on the examining table, nervously picking at a fingernail. "I can't remember the last time I saw my feet," she said with a groan.

Dr. Pamela Burr laughed. "This might feel a little cold."

Dana tried not to flinch as the doctor applied clear jelly to her huge stomach. She closed her eyes and waited until she heard the heartbeats before she opened them again. "So everything is okay?"

"Your babies appear to be doing fine. Don't you want to look?"

Dana didn't look at the monitor. "You know Hud. He's determined to be surprised. Just like the last two. So I don't dare look." She shot a glance at her husband. He stood next to her, his gaze on her, not the screen. He smiled, but she could see he was worried.

The doctor shut off the machine. "As for the spotting…"

Dana felt her heart drop as she saw the concern in Dr. Burr's expression.

"I'm going to have to insist on bed rest for these last weeks," she said. "Let's give these babies the best start we can by leaving them where they are for now." She looked to Hud.

"You can count on me," he said. "It's Dana you need to convince."

Dana sat up and laid her hands over her extended stomach. She felt the twins moving around in the cramped space. Poor babies. "Okay."

"You understand what bed rest means?" the doctor asked. "No ranch business, no getting up except to shower and use the bathroom. You're going to need help with Hank and Mary."

That was putting it mildly when you had a four-and five-year-old who were wild as the canyon where they lived.

"I'm sure Hud—"

"You'll need more than his help." The doctor pressed a piece of paper into her hand. "These are several women you might call that I've used before."

Dana didn't like the idea of bringing in a stranger to take care of Hud and the kids, but the babies kicked and she nodded.

"Doc said I was going to have to watch you like a hawk," Hud told her on the way home. Apparently while she was getting dressed, Dr. Burr had been bending his ear, down the hall in her office. "You always try to do too much. With the kids, the ranch, me—"

"I'll be good."

He gave her a disbelieving look.

"Marshal, would you like a sworn affidavit?"

He grinned over at her. "Actually, I'm thinking about handcuffing you to the bed. I reckon it will be the only way I can keep you down for a day let alone weeks."

Dana groaned as she realized how hard it was going to be to stay in bed. "What about Hank and Mary? They won't understand why their mommy can't be up and around, let alone outside with them and their animals." Both of them had their own horses and loved to ride.

"I've already put in for a leave. Liza can handle things. Anyway, it's in between resort seasons so it's quiet."

September through the middle of November was slow around Big Sky with the summer tourists gone and ski season still at least a month away.

Dana knew October was probably a better time than any other for her husband to be off work. That wasn't the problem. "Hud, I hate to see you have to babysit me and the kids."

"It's not babysitting when it's your wife and kids, Dana."

"You know what I mean. There are the kids and the ranch—"

"Honey, you've been trying to do it all for too long."

She had been juggling a lot of balls for some time now, but Hud always helped on the weekends. Their ranch manager, Warren Fitzpatrick, was getting up in years so he had really slowed down. But Warren was a fixture around the ranch, one she couldn't afford to replace. More than anything, she loved the hands-on part of ranching so she spent as much time as she could working the land.

When she'd found out she was pregnant this time she'd been delighted, but a little worried how she was going to handle another child right now.

Then the doctor had told her she was having twins. Twins? Seriously?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 17 )
Rating Distribution

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(10)

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(7)

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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 20, 2014

    Really 3.5 stars, but I rounded up. I liked this better than th

    Really 3.5 stars, but I rounded up. I liked this better than the first one, only because it had more twists. I liked the change in Jordan and how he tried to figure out what happened to his friend 20 years ago. It goes to show, how some people never can leave high school behind, that the groups people belonged to in their high school years, still had control into their adult lives. The ending was a surprise, and this book had a nice ending, that didn't leave you with so many questions unanswered as in book one. Better deal to buy to bundle, I personally don't think this book is worth $4.99, but in the bundle it is $7.99 for 3 books in order. (ljb)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 1, 2012

    highly recommend

    Great book. You need to read the other cardwell book as well. They are both great.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 31, 2012

    Recommed

    I have read several of her series books and realy love them. They are a easy clean read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 17, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Molly Book provided by the publicist for review Revi

    Reviewed by Molly
    Book provided by the publicist for review
    Review originally posted at Romancing the Book

    Loving westerns and suspense novels the way I do, I was completely overjoyed to have the chance to review this book. I’d heard so much about BJ Daniels and her work, and I wanted the chance to read her work myself. I have to say that this book was awesome! I loved the complexity of the characters and the intensity of the suspense, yet it was fast paced and captivating.

    Jordan Cardwell is back home….his high school best friend committed suicide but he feels there’s more behind that story. When he comes back to the Cardwell Ranch to check, something deeper is going on.  A classmate was murdered. But, is that all that’s behind it? Or are secrets coming too close to the surface for someone in the town of Big Sky, Montana?

    Deputy Marshal Liza Turner is investigating the murder. Something is not right, and the sexy cowboy Jordan Cardwell is a prime suspect. But, that doesn’t stop what she feels for him. There’s definitely strong attraction between them. She can’t get too close to him though, for he’ll leave again, just like he did 6 years earlier. When they come to terms with having to investigate the pieces of the puzzle, she soon realizes that her heart is lost. But, will it be in the name of justice? Or will it be in the name of the sexiest cowboy in Big Sky?

    These two characters are perfect for each other, and watching them uncover the secrets together was awesome! I loved the way they fit together and complimented the story. There was just enough sizzle and pop in the romance without going over board and taking away from the suspense.

    This is definitely not the last BJ Daniels book that I will read. I will be going back and reading where this story began in Crime Scene At Cardwell Ranch. I am hoping that we get to see more of Dana, Hud, Jordan, Liza, and the gang in future books as well! Well done, Ms. Daniels :-).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2013

    Tack room

    Feed is in the corner. Saddles r up.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 22, 2013

    Recommend

    Good followup! Definitely recommend that you grab a cup of tea and settle back and enjoy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2013

    Wildheart ranch sheep field

    Kate

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 27, 2012

    Love these series - Get to know the ranchers - Read it

    Never can tell what will happen in big sky country! The dedicated people in the books and the gentleman cowboys are what this world could use more of!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2012

    Great Book

    This was a great, fast, easy read! It was nice to read about familiar characters and now I'm ready for more!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2012

    Loved it

    Loved they kept the story going. Love this family and there ranching life. Great book!

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  • Posted October 2, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent Suspense!

    My review: Justice at Cardwell Ranch is a part of Cardwell Ranch series, but can easily read as standalone. It was my first book written by B.J. Daniels and I enjoyed it a lot. After finishing Justice at Cardwell Ranch, I actually decided to read the first book in the series, too. Justice at Cardwell Ranch is well written, the writing is smooth and professional, it is filled with thrilling suspense and mystery and fascinating settings of Montana. It is easy to read and the novel captures you from the very beginning and keeps your attention until the last page is turned. Plot: Meet Jordan Cardwell, who is coming back to his home town to attend his high school get together and to find out if and why his best friend killed himself at high school. Besides that, he has not been seeing his family for several years and lot of things have changed in his life and also in his personality. Especially after his divorce. Jordan needs and wants to face his sister Dana, but before that happens, he is involved in a murder case. He has agreed to meet Alex, another friend from his high school time. Alex is sure, that their common friend Tanner did not commit suicide, but was killed. When Jordan is appearing to their agreed meeting place, Alex is shot on the spot and since Jordan is on site while it happens, he becomes the suspect number one. At least for a while. Then the body count starts to increase and you quickly find out that what might seem obvious, is not. During the investigation Jordan gets closer to his family and to Deputy Marshal Liza. At the same time, the other members of the Cardwells are added to the story and you will quickly start asking questions - why are they all suddenly appearing in the ranch? What are their motives? The suspense part of the story was very intrigued and very well plotted. Besides that, there is romance woven to the story, romance between Jordan and Liza which is in my opinion staying little too much in the background. Characters: Let me start with telling you, that there are many characters in Justice at Cardwell Ranch. It was quite confusing for me in the beginning and hence the reason why I decided to read the prequel. As said, it is not necessary, but it will make it easier for you to understand the background of the characters. The amount of characters does not damage the quality of them though. I think the author did an excellent job with creating characters who are catching your attention and who intrigue you. You will find out that you can easily love some characters as much as you can dislike few others. There is a nice balance between the likes and dislikes. Characters are definitely supporting the plot! Generally: Justice at Cardwell Ranch by B.J. Daniels is a solid and interesting suspense spiced up with some romance and seasoned with fascinating characters. I would definitely recommend it!

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  • Posted October 2, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    B+ rating....

    My Review:

    This was a book that surprised me because it was so much heavier on the suspense than the romance. But that was okay with me because the suspense story line was really good. I had no idea where the twists and turns were going to go next.

    In the story, it’s time for the twentieth class reunion for 8 former high school students in this small Montana community. Their senior year was marred by the suicide of Tanner, Jordan’s best friend. Jordan never understood why Tanner committed suicide, but there was never any sign of foul play. That is until one of his former classmates calls to tell Jordan that he needs to talk to him about Tanner’s suicide if he can come home for the reunion. But when he goes to meet that classmate, someone shoots and kills him.

    That’s what happens in just the first few pages, but the story weaves in and out of the lives of these eight friends and what happened to them twenty years ago. It’s a story worthy of any soap opera. To make things even more dramatic, there is also a side story…or actually several of them…with Jordan’s family. I think that there may be a past novel that gets into the real drama which happened to this family six years ago, but none of the four siblings have spoken since then. Dana is still there running the family ranch with her husband, two kids, and is on bed-rest awaiting the birth of her twins. Without warning and seemingly coincidentally, two of the siblings come home…Jordan and Sarah. Sarah has her own mystery in tow—a six month old baby.

    Because Jordan was there when Alex was shot, he's automatically a suspect in his murder. In charge of the investigation is Liza. She doesn't believe that Jordan is guilty, but there are so many threads to unravel, it's impossible to tell who is guilty. In the meantime, she's worried that he's going to be the one to end up dead.

    Honestly, I wouldn't have thought that I would enjoy a book with this light of a romance line. It is truly all about the suspense mystery (although, no worries, there is an HEA). But what was there was really romantic and emotionally satisfying enough for me to buy the romance and find it to be enough. I definitely got pulled into every aspect of this book. It was a good one.

    I received a complementary copy of this book in return for an honest review.

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