When a wild mustang is shot in Montana, renowned horse whisperer and telepath, Emma Horserider, is called in to calm the herd and find out what happened. Once on scene she is almost killed by a bullet-spewing drone, and calls her black ops brother for back-up.
Emma's help roars into her life covered in tattoos and riding a Harley. Remote viewer Bronco Winchester takes the assignment because he is ordered to, but he wonders what type of assistance, his boss's sister needs. That is until he sees Emma, a valiant Warrior Woman proud of her Crow heritage.
Posing as a married couple, Emma and Bronco go undercover to infiltrate and stop a hate group. Both are anxious enough without the now growing attachment they feel for one another. When the lives of many are on the line, they are not sure if they will live or die—let alone have a chance at love.
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Crow Reservation, Montana
Brandon Winchester, aka Bronco, rapped at the door of the address his boss, Bert Blackfeather, had texted him that morning with instructions to get there pronto. Pushing the big bike as hard as he dared, it had taken him most of the day to get from Colorado to the Crow Reservation in Montana. Once there, he had to navigate his way through the maze of streets, pick-up trucks, SUVs, horseback riders, kids kicking a soccer ball, clusters of adults, and a yappy little dog determined to pursue him for the last mile. Saddle sore, tired, and hungry, he thought about his breakfast back in Denver, and his stomach growled.
Much earlier that day, he'd been sitting in a restaurant, the kind he preferred with three glass sides and the kitchen at his back. On a much needed break between cases, Bronco had been inhaling a mountain of sausages and pancakes dripping with syrup, occasionally slipping a link to his whining friend in his mesh-topped leather backpack. When his phone buzzed and Bert's number popped up, he knew it was urgent. Sticky fingers smearing prints on the screen, he had finally gotten the phone up to his ear.
Bert's voice boomed. "We've got a situation, and you're the closest guy I've got in the region."
"What's the assignment?"
His boss barked, "When you get there you'll find out."
Bert never snapped at his agents. Calm and cool under pressure, the big man's voice held a note of panic.
Something was wrong. Dreadfully wrong.
"Hey, man." Bronco waved at the server for the check. "I'm not trying to give you a hard time. Just trying to figure out what you need me to take care of."
"I'm texting you the address. Drop whatever you're doing and get out there. Call me on my secure line when you arrive."
Bronco licked his fingers and sighed. He'd been hoping to break the long dry spell created by his last two assignments. So much for asking that cute little blonde in the next booth who'd been flirting with him for the last thirty minutes if she wanted to go for a ride.
"Okay, boss, I'm on it."
"Good. And by the way, don't take no for an answer."
He stared at the silent phone. Don't take no for an answer? What was that supposed to mean? Mounting his bike and kicking it into high gear, he guessed he'd find out soon enough.
Bronco now stood squinting in the late afternoon sun, knocking at a door with no bell, and waiting for a response. Dogs barked and a window curtain twitched. Good. Someone was home. He adjusted his pack, leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and said, "Any time now." As the words slid out of his mouth, he heard the unmistakable sound of a shotgun being pumped.
He raised his hands. "Don't shoot. I'm unarmed." Turning slowly to face his fate, his jaw fell open, and his heart rate kicked up a notch from being on the wrong end of a shotgun or from the weapon holder's looks, he wasn't sure. A raven haired Amazon in a tank top, jeans, and metal tipped cowboy boots held the Mossberg 500 in a perfect military stance. Long strands of hair blew across her face in the hot breeze. A large purple bruise bloomed on her left cheek. She squinted her dark brown eyes and gave him a laser-beam once over from his dusty black boots to his sweat soaked do-rag.
"Who are you, and what do you want?"
If he hadn't been so intent on not getting killed, he would have spent more time staring at those full, luscious, kissable lips and thinking about how she would taste. As it was, he guessed he had less than a minute to respond before getting blasted into the next county.
"Bronco Winchester. Bert Blackfeather sent me."
Shaking her head, she lowered her weapon, a grimace pulling those pretty lips downward. "Tell him I said no."
"We have a problem. My boss specifically ordered me not to take no for an answer."
She scowled, and he could have sworn sparks flew from her eyes. "Asshat."
She pointed at the door. "Go ahead. It's not locked. I don't need a security system."
Bronco stepped aside. "Ladies first." Just as the woman passed him to enter the house, his backpack shifted and wiggled. Not a good time. The weight bounced up and down and paws thumped his back in response.
She stood in the doorway and waved him inside. Three large, mixed-breed dogs greeted them with howls and wagging tails.
He chuckled. "These are your watch dogs?" His laugh caught in his throat when she gestured and the pack stood and began to growl and raise their hackles. "Just kidding. Good doggies."
Another hand signal and the snarling Cujo wannabes sat and wagged their tails. He could have sworn they were smirking at him. "I stand corrected."
"Yes, you do. And yes, you will be." After retrieving the chambered shells, she placed the weapon in a rack at the side of the door. "We're going to call my darling brother and get this little misunderstanding straightened out."
Bronco's tongue untangled, "Your what?"
She snorted, "Let me guess. He didn't tell you I'm his sister."
He shook his head, and the backpack quaked and emitted a low growl.
The dogs took note, three heads swiveling in a choreographed move that would have broken the Internet, had he gotten it on video. The largest dog, a German shepherd mix, stood on his hind legs like a human and stared at the now dancing rucksack.
"Whatever you've got in your pack, you'd better let it out before my dogs knock you down."
"Probably not a great idea." The beast on his back yowled. Bad timing, my friend.
Hand on her hip, Amazon woman stared at him and waited in silence.
Bronco sighed. "Okay. Don't say I didn't warn you. You can come out now, Gaucho." He set the pack on a chair and unzipped the mesh top. An enormous harness-wearing spotted cat with long tufts at the tips of his black ears launched himself out of the bag, landed on his shoulder, teetered for a nanosecond, and then wrapped himself around Bronco's neck. The end of a long leash rested in Bronco's hand. Loud purring commenced — and the dogs erupted in howling.
"Well, I'll be damned." His boss' sister turned to the dogs and gave them a hand signal. Slowly, each dog sat, gazes glued on the feline. The woman walked around Bronco. "A bobcat. He's a beauty. Did you get him from the folks out west near Missoula? What's he weigh? Twenty, thirty pounds? Looks kinda small, compared to others I've seen up close. How old is he? How do you keep him locked up in that backpack for that long ride? I don't see any space for a litter pan."
He'd expected her to be alarmed when the big cat leaped out of the bag, literally. She'd shown him, hadn't she? She hadn't blinked an eye or missed a beat.
"He prefers to use a toilet." He chuckled at her look of amazement. "But, there were lots of open spaces between Denver and here. No issues finding relief areas for either of us." He winked. "It's a long story about how Gaucho came into my life."
She began to lift her hand, then stopped. "Okay if I pet him?" Bronco turned and nuzzled the cat's cheek. "What do you think, Gaucho?"
The cat leaped down to the floor and rubbed against her legs. The dogs circled her, tails wagging so hard they beat against Bronco's legs with the force of a police baton. As he knew the cat would, Gaucho took it all in stride, head butting each dog in turn. Standing on his hind legs, the bobcat raised his front paws to the woman, who immediately picked him up. Giggling with each butt of her head, she rubbed her nose against his fur. At last she lifted her shining face to Bronco.
"Thank you. This guy has made me happy, something I didn't think possible after yesterday's events."
"Feline therapy," he said with a grin. "Cheaper than psychiatrists, safer than medications. I can tell you lots of stories about this guy." Ones he'd love to share with her over drinks and dinner, under way different circumstances. Right now, he was on assignment. And his orders were to call his boss as soon as he got to the address. "I never got your name."
"I didn't give it to you."
Cradling the cat, she extended her hand and he took it, expecting a firm, but feminine grasp. Iron bands wrapped around his larger hand and squeezed. Hard. He tried not to wince without success. Amazon, indeed. He bet she liked to be in charge in bed, too. Heat danced along his skin from head to toes and all points in between, causing his neglected body part to spring to eager attention. Shifting the backpack to a strategic location with his left hand, he worked to turn down his body's thermostat.
No way, no how, was he ever going to bed the boss's sister.
She hadn't been in the house ten minutes after returning from the mustang sanctuary before the phone began ringing. Her brother had known as he always did when she was in trouble. Just as she'd known when her brother stepped on an IED in Iraq, feeling the shock of the explosion and the pain in her legs. Injured and near death, her brother's pain had traveled along their special connection at the time of the event and let her know he was alive, but weak. Her heart rate in sync with her brother's, she didn't sleep until her pulse went from thin and thready, to strong and steady. Likewise, when Emma was in trouble and attacked by the unmanned drone, Bert told her he felt her fear — and anguish over the loss of the horse that came between her and certain death. Now, instead of letting her work the Indian telegraph to determine who the perpetrator was, big brother had stepped in saying it was terrorism, a matter for Homeland Security.
So he sent this, this — drop dead gorgeous biker in his denim jacket with the sleeves ripped off — commonly referred to as a cut by motorcycle clubs — with his club colors and this loving, spotted beauty of a bobcat. The man's road name should have been Easy as in "easy on the eyes." While she reluctantly returned the cat to his owner, and he readjusted him on his shoulders, she gave Bronco another once over. The first time she'd been looking for weapons. This scan was a different kind of threat assessment. She guessed he was about six foot-two inches, and a little over two-hundred pounds. No visible fat. Arms roped with sinewy muscles and decorated with biker tattoos, the man clearly worked out. With long dark hair pulled back into a pony tail under an orange bandana and a scar on his left cheek, he looked like a bad boy you would cross the street to avoid. Except he worked for her brother in the Anomaly Defense Division, which put him in the good guy category. And in the irresistible-to-Emma category. Yup. The next time she saw her brother she was going to kill him.
"I'm here." Bronco — even his name was targeted to hook her — spoke into his cell phone. "Yes, she said no. Standing right here." He handed the mobile over to her. "Sorry, it's sticky. I came here straight from my favorite pancake place in Denver."
"Have you heard of this new thing called soap?" She put it on speaker and kept the phone away from her face. "Yo, bro', what are you doing to me? I can take care of this myself."
"Yes, yes, I know you can. Semper Fi and all that," Bert's voice emerged from the speaker. "This isn't just about you, little sister. We have no idea where that drone came from, who made it, or who's controlling it. Just to be sure I wasn't jumping to conclusions, I spoke with the FBI profilers at Quantico. They told me violence against animals is one way a beginning serial killer starts."
Emma's stomach roiled at the thought of animal cruelty, and she shook her head. "Do they have any other incidents like these in their files?"
"No. They've never seen one involving the use of drones. They said psychopaths who become serial killers enjoy the act of killing. This long distance attack using drones is not typical of a serial killer or even a spree killer. They want to be up close and personal, get their hands dirty, and witness the terror and mayhem in person not via a camera. They thought the video surveillance had the hallmarks of an enemy combatant. Since we aren't at war on our soil, we have to operate on the assumption that this could be a domestic or international terrorist."
She white knuckled the phone. "I'm the only good witness you have. The horses can't testify, and Margie took cover when the second attack occurred. I need to be in on this investigation."
"No. Neither you, nor are the local law enforcement officers in charge. No matter how much I trust the LEOs out there, this supersedes their authority — and your meddling, Emma."
"Meddling? Are you kidding me? You better not expect me to sit on the sidelines and make fry bread," she needled. "These are my friends, humans and horses."
Her chest tightened at the memory of the horses, too big to be lifted to the pick-up bed without larger equipment, being examined in the pasture. Not surprisingly, the state police vet's autopsy showed the bullets to be the cause of death. Dr. Obvious, at your service.
"I know, but if that mare hadn't protected you, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"I have the shell casings. Can we work with the locals to get those examined? It's no secret. The attacks are all over the local news. My guess is Ralph told a couple hundred of his closest friends when he went to the Hanging Tree to calm down with a few beers."
"He's lucky I don't take him to a real hanging tree and not that drinking hole for broken down cowpokes." Then her brother let out a stream of curses in Crow, most of which involved Ralph, his tongue, and what Bert would do with him if he had the old man's throat in his grip.
Emma glanced at Bronco's profile. A smile played on his lips as he stroked the bobcat's head. Had the cat given him that long scar on his cheek? He caught her staring and quirked a brow. His sky blue eyes seemed to see into her thoughts — and given the kinds of agents who worked for her brother, that was a distinct possibility. Heat rose in her neck, and she glanced away.
"Bert, just tell me where you want us to go, and what you want us to do."
"You're not doing anything," he snapped. "Your job is to tell my agent everything that happened. You are also to take him to Hotel LaBelle and introduce him to Lucius and Tallulah Stewart. Tallulah's pregnancy hormones have her spirit sightings and remote viewings messed up. Now she only sees nurseries and babies."
Last year, hotel inspector and granddaughter of a Choctaw medicine woman, Tallulah Thompson, had been invited to Billings, Montana to assist a hapless proprietor in getting the historic Hotel LaBelle back on her feet. On the first night in the hotel, she had met the original owner, "Love 'Em and Leave 'Em" Lucius Stewart, a man cursed by Beautiful Blackfeather, a powerful Crow medicine woman and Emma and Bert's ancestor. Trapped between the living and the dead, no human had seen Lucius for over a century — until Tallulah and her pug, Franny, appeared. After a series of visions, a visit from Beautiful Blackfeather, and a fire in the historic hotel, Tallulah had been able to use Beautiful's medicine stick to free the dapper innkeeper from his century in limbo.
Her brother continued, "Bronco's a remote viewer."
Emma gave Bronco a hard look and spoke to her brother. "Is he a mind reader, too?"
Bronco shook his head. "Only with Gaucho." At that the big cat lifted his head and stared at her with glowing golden eyes. "We're a team."
Her brother cleared his throat. "Ahem. If you'll let me finish, I'd appreciate it. Lucius, with his ability to use Beautiful's medicine stick to disappear and reappear, will be an invaluable team member as well."
"Boss, I don't even know where to start, much less how to utilize this guy Lucius and his stick? Do you have some other intel you'd like to share with me? Like what exactly you want me to do?" "Emma, would you please tell Bronco what happened?"
Keeping emotions in check, her voice low and even, Emma recapped the drone attack at the Wyoming and Montana border. Gazing at the agent assigned to the case, she noticed his pained response to her recitation when she described how the mare saved her life.
He rubbed the cat's head and looked thoughtful. "Can you tell me what this thing looked like?"
"Smaller than a Predator, bigger than a Raven." At his quizzical look, she motioned to the nearby computer and in a few mouse clicks pulled up an aviation channel focused on every variation of drones from toys to professional ones. "I went through a bunch of online videos. There's a zillion on unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly called unmanned drones, or just drones. The closest thing I found to what I saw is a cross between a Blackjack and an Eagle, only about twice the size, equipped with a camera and an automatic weapon."
Excerpted from "Legacy of Evil"
Copyright © 2017 Sharon Buchbinder.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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