A scintillating, fast-paced, winner-take-all confrontation between a fifth-generation rancher and a dashing, charismatic rogue out to get whatever he wants. Kate Clark was content with life on her Montana ranch, until she met billionaire playboy Jarrett Sinclair, a meeting that forever changed her life. Following in her father's footsteps, Kate wrangled cattle, bulldogged steers, and broke horses with the best of men. She had her life neatly laid out. She was going to marry her neighbor and acquire the remaining properties she needed to restore the family ranch to the largest in the state. Everything was going as planned until Sinclair received pictures of her swimming naked in a mountain lake. Overwhelmed by her beauty, Sinclair went after her with a passion. He lavished her with affection. Her life could not have been more exciting. At the same time, she got wind that an anonymous developer was scheming to break up her ranch for a colossal resort they sought to build. In her fight to save her ranch, Kate was forced to take on roles she never wanted while dealing with Sinclair's amorous advances and deteriorating health. Sinclair kept his identity as the developer secret as he quietly struggled with the ravages of CTE, a life-threatening football-related brain injury. While caring for Sinclair, Kate suddenly learned he owned the company bent on destroying her ranch. On discovering that, she was torn between abhorring him as the developer and comforting the gravely ill man she hopelessly loved.
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With a figure that turned men's heads, the fifth-generation rancher set out on early-morning rounds to check the stock and the men who worked for her. Alone in the pickup, Kate Clark motored up the hill of the once-mighty ranch of historic proportions. Amassed by her great-grandfather and decimated by her grandfather, it was three properties shy of returning to its original size. From as far back as she could remember, Kate had made it her lifelong ambition to continue what her parents started and return the Clark family ranch to its magnificent stature.
A mile up from the main ranch compound, Kate came upon a wrangler as he swung a club at one of her steers. Slamming on the brake, she leaped from the cab. "Stop that," she yelled as the club came down hard across the animal's face. Crack! came the bone-shattering report. The steer stumbled and staggered back. "What the hell are you doing?" she demanded. This was her ranch, and no one mistreated her animals, especially not one of her wranglers.
"It tried ta gore me. It's gotta be taught a lesson," he said, reeling about.
"No, it doesn't. It's just a steer. You're fired. Get off my ranch now," she said.
"You can't fire me," he sneered. "I don't work fa you. I work fa Gene. He hired me," he said with slurred speech, referring to Kate's foreman who had hired him. Stumbling, he swung the club in her direction.
That's it, Kate resolved. "The hell, I can't!" Catching the wood with a gloved hand, Kate wrenched it out of his grasp. Grabbing his hand, she bent it back painfully between his shoulder blades. He tried to yell but couldn't when her other hand closed on his throat. He gasped as she marched him to his pickup. "Now you and your pile of junk get off my ranch. Go to the office and collect your pay." She shoved him inside and watched as he dug out and drove down the hill.
"So much for you," she muttered. Dusting off her hands, she reached into her truck for the radio microphone. "Dolores, I need someone up to area three with a trailer to haul in a steer. Jake just clubbed it, and it needs to be butchered. I fired the miserable no-good drunk. Soon as you pay him off, tell Gene I don't ever want to see him on my land again."
"Will do, boss," replied the woman who was married to Gene and lived with him and their twelve-year-old son, Dusty, in the foreman's house, not far from the Clark family home.
"Soon as I finish loading the steer, I'm going down to work Billie B," Kate said, referring to one of the many roping horses she was bringing along.
Dolores was quick to point out, "Remember, you have that cattle ranch owners association meeting today."
"Thanks for the reminder. I should finish in the arena with time to spare." Turning, Kate watched as the truck with trailer made its way up toward her. Some folks in town referred to her as that "spinster owner of the ol' Clark family ranch." She, on the other hand, preferred to think of herself as the not-yet-married owner of one of the most successful operations in the state. A marital status she planned to rectify as soon as the man who lived with her became more interested in matrimony and less in his new diesel-powered pickup and big shiny tractor.
Minutes later, with the steer loaded, Kate drove to the building with the large domed roof. Grabbing the saddle, she swung up onto Billie B. Backing the filly into the starting box, she called to the man at the head of the chute. "Hit it," she said. The steer broke for its freedom. Her bootheels came down on the horse's flanks. A couple quick twirls of her lariat, and the loop settled over the animal's head. Leaping off, she raced down the taut line to the steer. Grabbing two handfuls of thrashing calf, she jerked the animal off its feet. Dust choked the air as she collected three legs and cinched them together. Flinging her arms back, she sprang to her feet. "How'd I do?" she called to the man who ran in her direction.
"Great time, boss — 8.9 seconds," the man replied.
"Good, but not good enough," she said, realizing the best male time was a good second faster. "Bring on another calf. I want to run her again."
A number of steers later, she handed the horse off to the man who ran the starting chute. "Cool her down. I'll check her out again in a couple days. With luck, she should bring top dollar." Glancing at her watch, she hustled toward the exit. "I have to get going, I have a Montana Cattle Ranch Owners Association meeting to attend, and I need to get cleaned up." Rather than open and close the big gate at the far end of the building, she put a foot up on a rung and vaulted over on her way to her pickup.
Parking behind her house, she dashed across the broad porch to the most unlikely of Montana ranch houses, a white-columned antebellum mansion straight out of the old South. Built by her great-grandfather, it was his monument to having assembled the largest ranch in the state. Without pause, she passed through the kitchen toward the bedroom floor above. If she hurried, she'd have time to visit with Wylie, the man who lived with her, before she had to leave.
Finished showering, she was picking out what she was going to wear when her next-door neighbor, Patty Mitchell, ground to a stop behind the house. Owner of one of the three properties Kate needed, her best friend made her way to the back door. "You decent?" Patty called out.
Inches shorter than Kate, Patty had been friends with her since before grade school. Not waiting for an answer, Patty headed across the empty kitchen. A couple months shy of thirty-four, she was a few weeks older than Kate and noticeably heavier. Helping herself to coffee, she turned in search of the powdered creamer on the kitchen table. Set toward the end, where the day's mail had been neatly sorted, she stirred in creamer and spied The Nation's Meat magazine on the top of one of the stacks. A sedate trade publication directed toward producers of beef, pork, and poultry, it was not known for flashy covers. Patty's eyes widened when she saw the man pictured on the cover. Wearing an all-too-brief swimsuit and a luscious bronze tan, he was at the controls of an open-cockpit speedboat. Drenched in spray, his sculpted chest glistened, as did his washboard abs. Below his picture, the caption read,
Jarrett Sinclair — bachelor, playboy, entrepreneur Chairman of the board and owner of AJS Foods America's fastest-growing meat wholesaler
"Whew. You're something else." Patty whistled softly.
"Good morning," Kate said as she dashed past on the way to her office. "You say something?"
Patty held up the magazine. "You sell big-time to AJS Foods. What can you tell me about this guy, Jarrett Sinclair? He's on the cover this month. He looks delicious."
Kate checked her answering machine and seeing no blinkers, turned back. "Not much. All of my dealings are with Karl Schneider. He's my AJS account manager."
Patty's expression brightened. "Have you ever met Sinclair?"
"No," Kate replied.
"Too bad," Patty said. "He's handsome and rich. He flies around in his own private jet. He owns hotels and office buildings all over the place. He produces movies. Award-winning ones. A month seldom passes he's not featured in some tabloid with a gorgeous woman clinging to his arm at a movie premiere or building dedication. He's Mr. Excitement." Her eyes glowed. "A real hunk," she said, licking her lips.
"Forget it," Kate replied. "He's a big corporate mogul, and I'm just a little ol' rancher from Montana."
"From what I've seen of him in the tabloids, he's drawn to good-looking females, and let's face it, you're more than that." Patty assessed her friend dressed in a tailored tan Western shirt, matching Western-cut trousers with razor-sharp creases and golden-brown custom cowboy boots. "What's with the fancy duds? Where are you off to? Obviously not just the grocery store."
"Right," Kate said. "I'm going to the quarterly ranch owner's association meeting."
"Oooh," Patty mumbled. "I forgot about that." She paused. "If you're going to that meeting, why aren't you wearing a skirt and blouse and high heels? Lord knows you've got the figure for it." Her brow furrowed. "Kate. Once in a while, try dressing like a woman." She studied her friend. "Speaking of which, do you even own a dress?"
"Yes, I own a dress," Kate snapped back.
"Oh, really? When was the last time you wore one?" Patty asked.
"I wore one to mom's funeral. That was three years ..." Her voice trailed off. Wrong. I wore one to ..., she thought. Forget it. That's beside the point. Sensing she'd been a bit abrupt, she made with a lighthearted chuckle. "Hell." She grinned. "I'm a tough, hard-nosed rancher and breeder of horses and not one of those fancy floozies you find in your tabloids and fashion magazines. I'll leave the girly stuff to them." Having had it with the questions, her eyes narrowed as she focused on Patty. "What exactly are you here for?"
"Oh. Yeah, that. My nieces are with me. They wanted to check out the university in Missoula, so I let them use my convertible. Right now I'm stuck with Wylie's old gas-guzzling pickup. I forgot about your meeting today and was hoping you were going to town so I could ride along. I hate refilling his tank when gas costs this much. Obviously, you're not, so I guess I wasted a trip over here."
"I guess you did."
Patty drained her mug and looked toward the yard. "Speaking of Wylie, where's his crew cab?" There was a glint in her eye and sparkle in her voice she could not disguise. She was secretly in love with William, Wylie Lewis, the man who lived with Kate; and at times, it showed. "I didn't pass him on my way in, and he's not parked out back."
Kate pointed toward the stables. "I sold a mare to the Hendersons. He and Dad are over there loading her into the trailer."
"So he'll he be back today?"
"Yes," Kate said. "After they deliver the mare, Wylie's coming back so he can get an early start tomorrow working one of his fields." Kate looked toward the door. "I have a long drive ahead of me, and I really need to get going."
"Hey, I'm out of here," Patty said and left.
Patty's dust had barely settled when Wylie rolled up with trailer in tow. "I'm ready to go," he announced on entering. A large man with massive shoulders, no neck, and upper arms the size of most people's thighs, he owned one of the three properties Kate needed to restore her ranch to the largest in the state. The third property she needed was to the north of hers owned by the Wilsons. All three properties had been in the many parcels her grandfather had sold off to support his love of art, mostly painting, a passion he had practiced in the attic for years. "The horse is loaded. Is there anything special I need to tell them?" A couple of inches shorter than Kate, he had an easy smile and, fortunately, a calm disposition.
"No, I can't think of a thing. Gretchen's going to use her barrel racing. She's aggressive, quick off the line, fast, and turns well."
"You should know. You barrel raced and won a ton of awards." He turned to go. "Get home early if you can. I don't like you driving out here late at night. No telling what might dart out in front of you in the dark. It was all I could do to keep from hitting a moose and her calf three nights ago."
Kate smiled. She appreciated his concern. As always, he had her best interest at heart. "I'll try my best, but I've those two committees I'm on, and one runs through dinner."
* * *
It was late when the second committee adjourned. On her way toward the exit, Kate was stopped by Monty Parks, a rancher from down around Yellowstone. "Kate, I think I better tell you, a developer out of Denver has been nosing around in my area. Word has it they were looking to acquire a sizeable tract of land on which to build a colossal resort. They weren't able to find what they were looking for in my area and might be coming your way. With you owning the largest private wilderness on the east side of the Rockies, it's best I tell you."
Kate's expression chilled. "Thanks. I appreciate the warning."
"You better watch out. I heard they are big and powerful and have a lot of money."
"So do I," she snarled sardonically. "We'll see who blinks first."
From off to the side came a rancher's sarcastic whisper, "You tell him, fella."
Ignoring the man, she left.CHAPTER 2
The first light of day streamed through the master bedroom windows. Up on one elbow, Kate pushed back the tangle of hair that lay across her face. She had not slept well. The fact some developer might be heading her way gnawed at her. How dare they consider building a resort here? She scowled. They can take their money and go ruin nature somewhere else.
About to roll from the bed and let Wylie sleep, she saw the clock on the nightstand beside his head. "Whoops!" she called out and gave him a shake. He'd left a note in the kitchen, telling her he was going to set his alarm for five-thirty so he could get an early start working his field. It was now five minutes to six. "Darling, it's time to get up. Your alarm didn't go off."
"Huh," Wylie grunted. Forcing an eye open, he groped for the clock. He fumbled for the alarm. "Dang, I forgot to pull the plunger," he growled. Yawning, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. When he saw the state of her hair, he blinked. "Have trouble sleeping?"
"You could say that. According to Monty Parks from down around Yellowstone, a developer out of Denver has been looking to buy land to build a big resort. They weren't able to find what they were after in his area and now might be coming our way."
Wylie's expression brightened. "Great!" he glowed and pushed up on both elbows. "So someone might be interested in doing something with this land other than raising a bunch of dumb cows. With beef prices down along with demand, it's all most of us around here can do to break even."
Kate did not comment. While a lot of the smaller ranches around her were having trouble, she was not. She looked at him. To get in a conversation about ranch profitability would only lead to a heated discussion, which she was not up for this early in the morning. Tossing the covers aside, she rolled from the bed. Dressed in a plain knee-length sleep shirt, she dashed to the dressing room. "If you want to get in your field by seven, you better get moving."
"Yeah, I hear you," he mumbled and tugged the sheet back over his body. "When you finish, I'll get up."
Minutes later, dressed in jeans, a Western shirt, and thick boot socks, she stopped by the bed. Just as she had expected, he'd drifted back to sleep. She gave him a shake. "See you downstairs," she said and waited for his eyes to open. "I'll have coffee ready when you get there."
With the coffee brewing, Kate stepped over to the table and picked out the magazine that had caught Patty's attention. When she saw the cover, she stopped. What drew her in was not the brevity of the man's attire but rather Sinclair's eyes. Taking a breath, she felt he was looking at her. "Whew," she whispered. The sight of his gaze brought on a glow she had never felt before. Her juices were flowing, and not just a little. "Get a grip," she mumbled. "This is only a picture. He's not looking at me." Exhaling loudly, her expression eased as she laid the magazine aside. About to go check the coffee, she stopped and reached back for the publication. She studied the cover. Again, the hot rush welled up within her. She swallowed hard. Spray ran down his sculpted chest and over his powerful tanned arms. She agreed, Patty was right. You are something else.
Below the picture, the word playboy caught her attention. You don't look much like a corporate president if you ask me. A playboy, yes ... a corporate president no.
Behind her, the coffeemaker gurgled. The pot was a little over half full. In a couple minutes, it would be finished, and Wylie would be there. Flipping to the feature, she scanned it quickly. Like on the cover, the lead picture inside had him at the controls of the open-cockpit speedboat. Unlike on the cover, two bikini-clad females with overflowing breasts hung over his shoulders. One look at the caption told Kate a lot. "Accomplished driver of high-powered ocean-racing speedboats, the most eligible Mr. Sinclair approaches life and business the same way he races — aggressively, inches from the brink of danger." Kate rolled her eyes. Obviously, the writer has geared the article for the publication's predominate male readership. Exhaling slowly, she glanced down the page. A sentence in the first paragraph caught her attention: "A star athlete in college, his promising football career was cut short when, following a concession, the school physician barred him from all further contact sports. Not to be deterred, Sinclair took up racing boats, both power and sail."
She muttered, "So much for sports." Turning the page, she stopped at the last picture in the spread. Seated at a desk, Sinclair's suit coat was draped over the back of his chair, and his sleeves were rolled up. Under the picture, the caption read, "Through Mr. Sinclair's hands-on management style, in five years he has taken AJS Foods from bankruptcy to one of the most profitable meat wholesalers in the nation." Kate mouthed, "That's more like it."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Brazen Desires Desperate Hours"
Copyright © 2018 J. Saltwick.
Excerpted by permission of Christian Faith Publishing, Inc..
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