Wild Horses

Wild Horses

by Claire McEwen

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This wild stallion can't be tamed

Todd Williams is still the naïve idealist he was in college. Only now he's endangering lives — Nora Hoffman's to be exact. Nora hasn't seen Todd since he decided that saving the rainforest was more important than their relationship. Until the night she's nearly crushed by the stampede he causes. Now Todd is determined to make amends, for everything.

She may not agree with his methods but even Nora can't deny the importance of his fight to save the wild horses. With the attraction between them still sizzling and the fate of the horses in the balance, Nora must decide just how much she's willing to risk.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781488006586
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 03/01/2016
Series: Sierra Legacy
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 827,079
File size: 1 MB

About the Author


Claire McEwen enjoys challenges and happy endings, so when someone suggested she write a romance novel she thought, “Why not?”  She wrote a page, fell in love with writing, and her life has never been quite the same.  She abandoned her career to write as much as possible and now spends a lot of her time with imaginary people.  When not writing, she enjoys digging in her garden, playing on the beach, hiking, traveling, and reading, of course!  

Read an Excerpt

The odor of sagebrush rose spicy and rich as Nora wove between the low bushes. The crunch of the dry soil beneath her hiking boots fragmented the evening silence. All the scents and sounds of the high desert were magnified after dusk.

She shrugged her pack up higher, the tools, notebook and water bottles she carried heavy on her shoulders. The glamorous life of a plant biologist. There was nothing like the freedom and beauty of the Eastern Sierra landscape. But at moments like these, her muscles wobbly after fourteen hours on the trail, she wondered what it would be like to have a regular job. Maybe one that left her with some energy to go out with friends after work.

The image of herself dressed up, out for drinks or even some dancing, had her smiling wryly into the darkening night. Who was she kidding? She had no friends around here, and drinking and dancing had never really been her style. Her hot date tonight would be with her laptop and her notebook. After such a long and productive day, she had a ton of new information to organize. The hulking shadows of deserted storage buildings loomed into view, set at the top of the small rise ahead of her. Everyone had gone home already, and the Department of Range Management compound was silent. Nora couldn't wait to be home, too, and beneath a hot shower.

An unfamiliar metallic clank stilled her thoughts and halted her steps. The sound came from the direction of the corrals, where wild mustangs, captured from the surrounding area, were waiting to be auctioned off. Nora had seen them, dim silhouettes in the dawn light, as she'd hiked out today. They'd been huddled together in one corner of the exposed, dusty corral, as if seeking comfort in each other's company. She heard the clanking again. Maybe one of the horses was restless. Or could a predator be nearby, upsetting the poor captive animals?

But what should she do if coyotes, or a mountain lion, were harassing them? She moved quickly, keeping her footsteps quiet as she jogged toward the storage buildings. Maybe there was some kind of tool there that she could use to scare predators away.

Then the sound of metal slamming into metal ripped through the night again. And her heart slammed against her chest in answer. She froze and tried to calm herself—a gate must have come open, that was all. Then a man's voice sliced through the night, shouting, "Go!" The command was distinct—and so was the answering whinny.

Nora felt an instant of gratitude that the intruder was human—at least she wouldn't have to take on any coyotes. But the thought was interrupted by a heavy rumbling sound. Hoofbeats. Hoofbeats accompanied by shadows, darker than the darkness, thundering down the hill toward her. The mustangs weren't in their pens anymore. They were panicked and heading her way. They'd trample her.

She raced toward a boulder a few yards away and threw herself in front it. Gravel shredded her skin on impact. She gasped as the tools in her belt stabbed into her hip and side. The sound of hooves was deafening, almost on top of her now. She didn't dare look up, just rolled over and over until she was against the boulder, wishing fervently that it was a much larger piece of rock.

Then the horses were everywhere. Flooding around her measly shelter, so close she could feel the current they created in the air. The cacophony of their hoofbeats eclipsed her scream. She could hear them breathing and grunting as they swerved to avoid her rock. Pebbles, churned up by hooves, pelted the bare skin of her arms and legs. She screamed again, hoping to scare them, to divert their course away from her. But they just kept coming.

Pulling her pack over her head, Nora prayed it would protect her skull from the flying hooves. Cowering underneath it, her world narrowed to her next breath, her blood thundering almost as loudly as the wild horses stampeding around her.

Then they were gone. Instantly, blissfully gone. Their terrifying noise fading as the herd fled into the dark desert night. She lay still, the weight of her pack pressing her cheek into the soil.

The usual evening stillness returned, almost as if none of it had happened. Except it had. Nora had the tears on her cheeks, the stuttering heart, the ragged breath to prove it. Every nerve was on alert, every inhalation felt precious with the knowledge that she could so easily be lying here trampled, no breath in her body.

She hugged the earth, whispering a prayer of thanks. The gravel was rough beneath her cheek but she welcomed the discomfort—it meant she was still here. She closed her eyes and inhaled the dusty smell of soil and of life. She wanted, more than anything, to just go home.

She lifted her head and sat up stiffly, rubbing her hip and side. She would have some huge bruises tomorrow.

Heaving herself off the ground, Nora shouldered her pack and hobbled up the last gravelly rise to the storage sheds. She fumbled with the metal latch, her fingers trembling so much they were almost useless. Finally she got the door open and set her tool belt down just inside. She shut it, the latch a little easier to manipulate now as the adrenaline slowly drained from her system.

How had the gate come open? She remembered the voice, the shouted command. Had someone let the horses out on purpose? Why?

Inhaling another shaky breath, she turned away from the shed and crashed right into a man. The adrenaline was back in an instant, sending nerve endings firing to red alert. She absorbed him in a series of terrified impressions. Broad chest clothed in black. A ski mask. A coil of rope in his hand. A tool belt on his hips. He was all steel muscle—and he was reaching for her.

Nora screamed and shoved past him, running before she was even conscious that she'd moved. Reaching into her pocket, she scrabbled for her car keys. Her pulse pounded; her blood hissed in her ears. Her breathing rasped across the nighttime silence. Every movement felt too loud, too slow, not enough. Her backpack swung and bumped awkwardly on her back.

She heard him jogging behind her, the ease with which his long legs were keeping up with her short strides only adding to her horror. He was playing with her. There was no way she could lose him. If she could just get to her car, get inside, lock herself in, she might have a chance.

She reached her Jeep, wishing the taillights didn't flash when she touched the unlock button on the remote. She yanked the door open and the interior light came on—a beacon.

"Wait." The voice was low and quiet. A gloved hand stopped the door. Nora gasped and whirled to face him. He was a terrible shadow in the blackening night, looming over her, emanating power. Nausea filled her stomach as she realized just how alone she was out here and what kind of horrible things might happen next.

"Let me leave." She tried to make her voice commanding, but it quavered.

"It's you." His voice was low, wondering, almost fearful. Not what she'd expected. His fingers left the door and found her wrist, coiling around it. The leather of his gloves felt clammy on her skin.

"What do you mean?" His grip didn't hurt, but it was binding and scary. "Let go of me!"

"Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you. I swear." But he didn't loosen his hold on her.

"Then, let me go." She sidled carefully to the right, as far from him as his arm would permit. The car light, no longer blocked by her frame, revealed a faint glint that was his eyes, but the ski mask kept everything else under cover. He studied her face intently, as if he was looking for something there.

Still, her heart thudded, almost hurting. "Please let me go home." She hated the plaintive note in her voice.

It was too dark to see what color his eyes were, but they didn't look as though they belonged to someone dangerous. She'd grown up with criminals—she knew what eyes with no conscience behind them looked like.

"I'll let you go," he promised, "once you agree not to call the sheriff."

"You stole horses," she stated.

"Freed horses," he corrected.

"Let me go."

"They were going to die here, slowly, brutally, sweltering in the heat. They've got no shade, no protection from the sun. They're standing ankle-deep in dust, and the government doesn't care."

"I'm sorry. It's terrible. Can I please go home?" Her heart was slowing to a more regular thud. She had one goal. To get out of here, fast.

"Have you seen them?"

What, he wanted to have a chat now? "Yes," she told him.

"Did you know that a foal died last week, right here? It wouldn't have died in the wild. They're our country's iconic wild horses and we're leaving them here in squalor because the government can't make up its mind about what to do with them."

With her fear fading, anger crept in. He was some kind of ecowarrior. He'd freed the horses on principle, to keep them safe. But without thinking of human safety. "They almost killed me when they ran."

He visibly recoiled. "You were out there?"

Her voice shook at the memory, and she gripped the door frame more tightly, fighting her fear. "I got behind a rock. Just barely. I was sure I'd be trampled."

"I'm sorry." The shock in his voice was audible. "I'm so sorry," he repeated. He sounded truly upset. This was bizarre.

"Where are you taking them?" she asked. And then mentally kicked herself. Why was she still talking with this maniac? All she needed to do was agree with him and get out of here.

"Somewhere they'll be free to roam and find the shade they need during the day." He paused, hesitated. "Look…are you hurt? I'd feel horrible if…"

"I'm okay. But I want to leave."

"Don't call anyone." The man shifted restlessly.

"I won't. Now can I go?"

"Sure. Just hand me your phone."

She hesitated.

"Hand me your phone, please." He glanced over his shoulder again, obviously anxious to be done with this conversation and get on with his horse-liberation project. Reluctantly, Nora reached into her pocket and handed him her phone. With one quick flick of his wrist he sent it sailing out into the desert blackness.

"Hey!" Outrage made her fearless. "I told you I wouldn't call."

"I know." Again he sounded genuinely apologetic. "But I have to make sure I have enough time to get out of here."

As her fear subsided, a thought in the back of her mind solidified… His voice sounded familiar. How was that possible? Who did she know from around here who might free wild horses?

"Do we know each other?" she blurted out. And instantly regretted it. If he suspected she recognized him, would he hurt her?

Something changed. She could swear a current of worry ran through him. And she knew, without a doubt, that he knew her. He knew exactly who she was.

"No," he said quickly. Too quickly. "Goodbye." And he was gone, his footsteps crunching unevenly on the gravel as he jogged back across the parking lot. Whoever her masked man was, he had a limp.

She climbed into her Jeep and slammed the door, warm relief filling her veins as she hit the lock button. Turning the key, she welcomed the sound of the engine roaring to life, and floored the gas to get out of the parking lot as fast as possible. She didn't know anyone with a limp, and right now she didn't even care who he was. What mattered was that he was gone and by some miracle she was safe. All she wanted was to go home.

Todd ran a hand over his face. Getting the scratchy wool mask off provided him with about a millisecond of relief from his shock and horror. Nora Hoffman. After all these years, Nora had been here in the dark, almost killed by the horses he'd released.

This was insane. It made no sense. Why was she here?

Nora, his ex-girlfriend, face-to-face with him. Afraid of him.

Nora, of all people, witnessing him doing something illegal. Nora who hadn't so much as jaywalked when he'd known her back in college. When he'd loved her.

He urged his horse into a lope until he caught up to where Walt was riding, flanking the mustangs. The wild horses were moving quietly now. They were tired after their ordeal under the dubious care of the Department of Range Management. A few stumbled. "Do you think they'll all make it?" he asked his friend.

"Elliot's place is only eight miles northeast. It's mostly flat. If we move them slowly, don't run them, and nothing spooks them, we can get 'em there."

Todd sighed in relief and dropped back again, determined to keep any stragglers moving forward to safety and relative freedom. Once again he thanked God, or whoever was in charge of this messed-up world, for eccentric billionaires like Elliot Baxter. The elderly and ornery businessman was happy to flout government procedures and let the horses live in peace on his vast empty acres. He'd even put up a miles-long boundary fence, just to make it clear to the world that this particular group of wild horses was off-limits to further intervention from DRM incompetents.

Wendell, the formerly wild mustang Todd rode, was calm, seemingly uninterested in returning to his feral roots. It was gratifying to have concrete evidence that he'd done something well, even if it was just training a horse.

He glanced up, looking for the solace he usually found in the infinite stars that hung in the summer sky east of the Sierras. But instead of peace, he found uneasy thoughts of Nora. Disbelief that she'd been here tonight. Such a bizarre—and almost deadly—coincidence.

She must have been absolutely terrified. Too clearly, he could picture the way it might have ended, with her body crumpled and lifeless on the ground. He shuddered and looked at the sky again, grateful beyond measure that she'd stayed safe.

He'd thought of her so often, especially since moving to his ranch outside the small town of Benson. He'd always known she'd come from this part of California—though in their years together she'd never told him the name of her hometown. She'd almost never spoken of her family. Just joked that they were trouble and that she'd divorced them.

What were the odds of seeing her tonight? He'd almost said her name while they were talking. He'd wanted to say it, to reveal himself, to somehow reconnect with the woman he'd left behind so abruptly nearly a decade ago. Though clearly tonight wasn't the time for a reunion.

Since moving here, he'd assured himself that making his home east of the Sierras had nothing to do with Nora. He'd fallen in love with the rugged landscape, the contrast of high desert and majestic mountains, all on his own. But seeing her tonight… It felt like some kind of twisted fate.

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Wild Horses 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
MS_Birdlady More than 1 year ago
4.5 Stars! Very Unique Book! Loved it! (Which Wins - Professional Calling or Calling of the Heart?) Wild Horses presents a very unique and thought-provoking storyline. Nora Hoffman, the main character, is a field biologist, who is returning to her small hometown to deal with the economic mess legacy her not-there-for-her/crooked parents have left her and her brother. Her brother, Wade, is dealing with demons of his own, as a decorated U.S. Veteran coming back from war, and trying to start his own ranch. Both are dealing with the prevalent town negative gossip/backlash from their parents' bad choices during their childhood. Also, she has not dated since the love of her life (Todd) ditched her immediately upon college graduation, who is a head-strong, naive, overly-idealistic, passionate, eco-warrior, to pursue his own career dreams. To Nora's dismay, Todd and she end up in the same small town about a decade later at the same time for different and opposite professional work reasons. The question on the table is, which wins - professional calling or calling of the heart? Pros: 1) The author delves into each character's head and creates three flawed and highly-believable characters fighting the inner demons of scarring childhoods. All the characters have incredible insight to their weaknesses and yet, harbor them as inner secrets, causing pain and heartache directly & indirectly to each other. None of these characters are fit partners or in the case of her brother, really fit for life, however, through their juxtaposition in the small town, all three begin a telling growth process. 2) This book has narrative believability. Claire McEwen proves that not only can you have an intelligent, scientific female main character, but that it does not have to de-evolve into "nerdy" or "Einstein" intelligence stereotypes. Unlike “The Big Bang Theory,” I am intrigued by Claire's emotionally fragile, more girl-next-door, feminine approach. I was also extremely impressed with how real-life accurate and dramatic the final conflict was. Cons: 1) The Main Heartthrob, a “pretty boy,” isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It is the mark of a great writer, when a well-written character can invoke a negative response in a reader. This is not your typical "book boyfriend." Todd is extremely flawed, and some readers may get completely turned off by his style. However, I found his idealism realistically portrayed and liked it. 2) My one major caveat is that I found Nora’s romantic response to Todd _before_ the final conflict in the book slightly unrealistic to this otherwise exceptional book (which is why this is 4.5 stars rather than a full 5 stars). Highly recommend this book to Romance & SuperRomance readers. It will keep you thrilled throughout. The grittiness of the small town, the country-western theme, the complex backstories and interesting small town characters, make this a perfect, take-me-away yet relatable real-life problems blend. For those who love environmentalism, buy this book and support environmentalism in romance! :) Note: I was provided a free large-print paper copy of Wild Horses (Sierra Legacy) for an honest and non-biased book review. A same worded review will be posted at Goodreads and Amazon.
miafaccheeMP More than 1 year ago
Nora Hoffman has always done the "right" thing. Her mother left the family, leaving her & her younger brother, Wade, with a father & older brothers who were thieves. So when Wade, who is soldier fresh out of service, convinces her to come & help him bring their ranch back to life, she is more than reluctant. Then she meets her college love, Todd Williams, who, it seems, hasn't really changed much in the 10 years that they've been apart. Can people really change? And is a second chance at love possible? Read this book & find out...
RachaelBrown More than 1 year ago
While Nora is in her hometown helping her brother set up his ranch, she discovers that her ex boyfriend from college is now residing in town. Even though Todd broke her heart 10 years ago, she still loves him. However, she is reluctant to get involved with him because she is sure it will lead to another broken heart. As Nora and Todd discover details about each other's pasts that they hadn't known while dating in college, they start to understand the decisions that were made all those years ago. After rekindling their romance, Todd's causes threaten to tear them apart again. I enjoyed this second chance romance and look forward to the next book in the Sierra Legacy series. **I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.**
debbiereadsbook More than 1 year ago
a nice, easy read. Independent reviewer for Archaeolibrarian, I was gifted my copy of this book. Cute. Nice. Easy read. These are the feelings I'm left with after finishing. I can't word it any differently, I've tried, believe me! Nora returns to her home town to help her brother Wade on their family ranch. She never wanted to, but Wade needs her. She runs into her first and only love, Todd. Ten years have gone by and he still makes her heart beat faster. But Todd is working against the company that Nora is working for. Can they see a future together, one that lets them both be themselves?? I did enjoy this, for the most part. Its an easy read, without too much complication or mystery. You don't get all of Nora's history in one, you get it, mostly, just as Todd does, because was closed off in their relationship before, about her upbringing. We don't get all of Todd's history either, until Nora gets it, what happened after Todd went to save the rain forests without Nora. I can't word this review differently, other than it was nice! And you all know how much I hate not being able to word things properly, cos although NICE is a good thing, its not really the right word I want to use, and I can't find that word. Easy read, great to slot in between more in depth, darker books. A little too long to be a hang over cure, though. 3 stars **same worded review will appear on Goodreads, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble**
phylis More than 1 year ago
This is the first book that I have ever read by Claire McEwen and it will not be the last. As I started reading it, I immediately felt connected to the Nora, Wade and Todd. As your reading you are able to feel their emotions and it seems like you are right there with them. Nora struggled all her life, raising herself and her younger brother Wade. She left to go to College and make something of herself which she did. She also supported her brother and helped him make something of his life as well. Their mother left them when they were little and her father and her two other brothers never helped her and Wade to succeed. At college, Nora met Todd, he didn't ask questions about her past which was fine with her because she didn't want to answer them. Nora always had a plan and Todd always did things that he thought was right but didn't weigh all possibilities of the future outcome of his actions. He decided that there were Wild Horses that needed to be let go so without thinking that someone might get hurt, he let them go and Nora was caught in the stampede. It is a great book and I would definitely recommend reading it. I will be reading more books by Claire McEwen. This one I received as and ARC in exchange for an honest review.
ELF-thereadingaddict More than 1 year ago
“Wild Horses” by Claire McEwen is the first book in the ‘Sierra Legacy’ series and follows Nora Hoffman, who has been hired by the Department of Range Management to study the environmental impact of wild horses on the native plant populations of a region of the Eastern Sierras. Her traumatic re-introduction to Todd Williams reminds her of the difficult decisions made in their shared past, and discovering that their intense attraction has not fizzled out makes it even more difficult to deal with the fact that they are on opposite sides of Todd’s struggle to rescue wild mustangs. Each will have to decide whether scars of the past will prevent them from finding a future together. This contemporary romance does a great job of presenting the complexities surrounding the impact of development on the environment and the delicate balance of the ecosystem. The theme of past lovers reunited is enhanced by the changes in the characters as they have matured and follows them as they learn to cope with some of the issues from the past. This is an enjoyable sweet and sensual romance that touches on several serious topics, including PTSD and the difficulties of living with abuse and unethical role models, and deftly lays the framework for other stories to follow. I enjoyed getting this glimpse of the land and learning more about the issues surrounding the plight of the wild horses that are trying to eke out an existence in a rapidly decreasing range. A copy of this title was provided to me for review
LynnB888 More than 1 year ago
A sweet read about finding your way home again, even if you have to overcome a lot of heartache and stubbornness to be able to do it. Nora Hoffman is almost trampled in a stampede of wild horses one night, and who does she find guilty of releasing them? Her old college sweetheart who she hasn't seen since he dumped her to run off and save the rain forest all those years ago! Todd Williams has no clue that anyone is there that night when he's trying to help the wild mustangs, but he sure is relieved when Nora is not injured. He can't believe she's there, and he's so happy to reconnect with her ... and surprised to feel that old stirring of attraction.