Something to hold on to . . .
Not so long ago, Reese Lockhart was commanding a company of Marines. Now his life is spiraling out of control. The Bar C ranch outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming may be his last chance to save himself . . .
Shaylene Crawford, an Afghanistan veteran herself, knows all too well the demons of PTSD—that’s why she’s determined to turn her family’s cattle ranch into a place where wounded warriors can work, find a home, and rebuild their souls. Her embittered father nearly drank and gambled the place away, but with help from a small crew of vets—including the newest arrival, the quietly compelling Reese Lockhart—she intends to hold on to her dream. And when someone tries to destroy that dream, Reese will do whatever it takes to defend her . . .
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Wind River Rancher
By Lindsay McKenna
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Nauman Living Trust
All rights reserved.
Reese Lockhart's stomach was tight with hunger as he stood at the outskirts of a small Wyoming town called Wind River. The sign indicated a population of two thousand. He'd gone a month without decent food. Six inches of snow stood on the sides of the road where he'd walked the last ten miles on 89A north. It headed toward Jackson Hole, where he was hoping to find work.
The town, for a Monday afternoon, was pretty slow. A couple of pickup trucks came and went, a few people walked along the sidewalks on either side of the highway that ran through the center of town. He halted outside Becker's Hay and Feed Store, an aged redbrick building standing two stories high. The red tin roof was steep and sunlight reflected off it, making Reese squint. Bright lights now hurt his eyes.
Taking a deep breath, feeling the fear of rejection once again, he pushed open the door to the store. Would he get yelled at by the owner? Told to get out? It was early May and snow had fallen the night before. The sleepy town of Wind River still had slush on its streets at midday.
The place was quiet, smelled of leather, and he saw a man in his sixties, tall, lean, and with silver hair, sitting behind the counter. He was sitting on a wooden stool that was probably the same age as he was, an ancient-looking calculator in his work-worn hands as he methodically punched the buttons.
Girding himself, ignoring the fact that he hadn't eaten in two days, Reese's gaze automatically swung around the huge establishment. A hay and feed store was something he was familiar with. Maybe the owner wanted some part-time help. He needed to make enough money to buy a decent meal.
Shoving away the shame he felt over his situation, he saw the man lift his head, wire-rim spectacles halfway down his large nose, his blue eyes squinting at Reese as he approached the long wooden counter.
"Howdy, stranger. Can I help you?" the man asked.
"Maybe," Reese said. "I'm looking for work. I saw you have several big barns out back, and a granary. Do you have any openings?" Automatically, Reese tensed. He knew he looked rough with a month's worth of beard on his face, and his clothes were dirty and shabby. At one time, he'd been a Marine Corps captain commanding a company of 120 Marines. And he'd been damn good at it until —
"I'm Charlie Becker, the owner," the man said, shifting and thrusting his hand across the desk toward him. "Welcome to Wind River. Who might you be?"
"Reese Lockhart," he said, and he gripped the man's strong hand. He liked Charlie's large, watery eyes because he saw kindness in them. Reese was very good at assessing people. He'd kept his Marines safe and helped them through their professional and personal ups and downs over the years he commanded Mike Company in Afghanistan. Charlie was close to six feet tall, lean like a rail, and wore a white cowboy shirt and blue jeans. Reese sensed this older gentleman wouldn't throw him out of here with a curse — or even worse, call law enforcement and accuse him of trespassing.
The last place where he'd tried to find some work, they'd called him a druggie and told him to get the hell out; he smelled. While walking the last ten miles to Wind River, Reese had stopped when he discovered a stream on the flat, snow-covered land, and tried to clean up the best he could. The temperature was near freezing as he'd gone into the bushes, away from the busy highway, and stripped to his waist. He'd taken handfuls of snow and scrubbed his body, shivering, but hell, that was a small price to pay to try to not smell so bad. He hadn't had a real shower in a month, either.
"You a vet, by any chance?" Charlie asked, his eyes narrowing speculatively upon Reese.
"Yes, sir. Marine Corps." He said it with pride.
"Good to know, Son." Charlie looked toward a table at the rear of the store, which held coffee, cookies, and other goodies offered to patrons. "Why don't you go help yourself to some hot coffee and food over there?" He gestured in that general direction. "My wife, Pixie, made 'em. Right good they are. I usually get a stampede of ranchers comin' in here when word gets 'round that Pixie baked some goodies." He chuckled.
Reese wanted to run to that table, but he stood relaxed as he could be, given anxiety was tunneling through him constantly. "I'd like that, sir. Thank you ..."
"Don't call me sir," Charlie said. "Americans owe ALL of you men and women who have sacrificed so much for us. Now, go help yourself to all you want. There's plenty more where that came from. Pixie usually drives in midafternoon with a new batch of whatever has inspired her in the kitchen each day."
Reese needed something worse than he needed food right now, so he hesitated. "Do you have any work I might do around here, Mr. Becker?"
"Call me Charlie. And no, I don't need help, but I got a nearby rancher who is looking for a hardworking wrangler-type to hire. You seem like you've worked a little in your life." Grinning, he stood and pointed to Reese's large, calloused hands. "I'll call over there while you grab yourself some grub." He waved, urging Reese to go eat.
Nodding, Reese rasped out a thank-you and felt his stomach growl loudly. He hoped like hell Charlie hadn't heard it. But judging from the man's facial expression, he had heard. Charlie picked up the black, landline phone on the counter to make a call to the ranch.
Halting at the long table against the back wall of the store, Reese's mouth watered. He was chilled to the bone, his combat boots wet, his socks soaked, toes numb. The coffee smelled so damned good, and with shaking hands, he poured it into an awaiting white Styrofoam cup. He took a cautious sip, the heat feeling incredible as it slid down his throat and into his shrunken, knotted gut. God, it tasted so good!
Reese kept one ear cocked toward the phone call Charlie was making. Let there be an opening for me. He worried because even though he no longer stank, his clothes were dirty and long past a washing. He knew he looked like a burned-out druggie or a homeless person, his hair long and unkempt, his black beard thick and in dire need of a trim. Reese didn't have a pair of scissors on him to do the job. His scruffy, dark green baseball cap was frayed and old, a holdover from two years ago when he was a Marine.
Eyeing the box of colorfully frosted cupcakes, his mouth watered. He wanted to grab all of them, but his discipline and manners forced him to pick up just one. His fingers trembled again as he peeled the paper from around the pink frosted cupcake.
Reese bit into the concoction, groaning internally as the sweetness hit his tongue and coated the inside of his mouth. For a moment, he was dizzy from the sugar rush, his whole body lighting up with internal celebration as the food hit his gnawing stomach. Standing there, Reese forced himself to take slow sips of the coffee. It tasted heavenly. He heard Charlie finish the call and the man came in his direction.
"Hey, Mr. Lockhart, good news," Charlie said. "The owner of the Bar C Ranch, Shay Crawford, still needs a wrangler. She's coming into town in about two hours, going to be coming by here to pick up some dog food and such. Said she'd meet you at that time."
"That's good to hear," Reese said. "Thank you ..."
Charlie nodded. "I have a bathroom in the back, with a big shower." He jabbed his index finger toward the rear corner of the store. "It's got some shaving gear in there, as well. On your way there, pick out a pair of jeans, a work shirt, boots, and whatever else you need before she arrives."
"I don't have the money to pay you," Reese said, hating to admit it. But he understood what Charlie was really saying. The woman owner of the Bar C would probably not want to hire him with the way he looked right now. The guy was trying to help him out.
Charlie gripped the arm of Reese's damp, dark olive-green military jacket. "This way. Just consider my offer as grateful thanks from this nation of ours for your sacrifices, Mr. Lockhart. You pick up what you want to wear and anything else you need. It's free to you. It's the least we can do for our vets." Charlie had a look in his eyes that told Reese he wasn't going to budge from his position.
Reese was going to say no, but the man's face turned stubborn. He felt like he was in a dream instead of a nightmare. "Tell you what," Reese said, his voice suddenly thick with emotion, "if I get this job, I'll pay you back every cent. Fair enough?"
Charlie smiled a little. "Fair enough, Mr. Lockhart. Now, eat all you want and once you're filled up, choose your clothes, find a good Stetson, work gloves, and anything else you might need. Bring it to the counter and I'll write it up for you." Charlie studied Reese's sorry-looking boots. "And get a pair of decent work boots to replace these guys." He gave Reese a grin. "They look like they need to be permanently retired."
One corner of Reese's mouth twitched. "Sort of like me," he admitted, more than grateful to the man. He felt like he was being treated like a king.
"Son, you're just having a bad streak of luck. We all go there at some point in our lives. You'll get through it, too." Charlie released his arm and patted it. "I think your streak is gonna end right shortly. Miss Crawford is an angel come to earth. If you present yourself well, I'm sure she'll hire you. She's a good boss to work for. The people she hires, stay, and that says everything."
Reese watched Charlie walk back to the counter. Hot tears pricked the back of his eyes. Reese swallowed hard several times, forcing them away. In the next fifteen minutes, he ate four more cupcakes and had three more cups of hot coffee, and felt damn near human. He found the jeans, work shirts, thick, heavy socks, a couple of pairs of boxer shorts, and two white T-shirts, and carried them up to the counter.
Charlie scowled. "Where's your work gloves? You need a good, heavy Carhartt work jacket. Your Stetson? Get a pair of heavy snow gloves, too. It stays winter until mid-June around here. And don't leave out getting a good, heavy knit sweater you can wear under that winter coat of yours." He pointed in another direction where a rack of men's sweaters hung, with a SPRING SALE sign on top of it.
Chastened, Reese nodded, his throat locked up with shame.
"Oh, and serious work boots, Son." He shook his finger in another direction where the footwear department was located. "Get a darned good pair. Don't skimp on quality because of price."
Reese wished he could nominate Charlie to the powers-that-be at the White House who were in charge of citizen honors, and have Charlie lauded as a hero. There should be a place where civilians who helped out vets who were faltering or who had walked away from society, were recognized for their compassion. Charlie deserved a civilian medal of the highest order. Once Reese located the rest of the gear, he brought it up to the counter.
"Grab your new duds and take a long, hot shower, Mr. Lockhart. There's razors and a pair of scissors in the medicine cabinet, should you want to trim that beard and long hair of yours a bit."
Okay, Reese got it. Charlie was his guardian angel trying to get him spiffed up for this coming interview with Ms. Crawford. Nodding his thanks, Reese took the clothes and headed diagonally across the store. As he entered the men's restroom, he was surprised by how large and sparkling clean it was. Indeed, there was a nice big shower, clean, white towels hanging nearby, a bar of Ivory soap and a soft, thick wash cloth.
Locking the door, Reese gladly got out of his old, filthy clothes. He felt guilty for accepting this man's generosity, but he'd hit the bottom of the barrel a month ago. And it wasn't pride that stopped him from accepting handouts. There weren't any handouts offered until just now. People would take one look at him, turn, and hurry away. Or if they saw him coming, they'd cross the street to avoid him. Women, especially, showed fear of him. He was a dirty, unshaven stranger. Reese didn't blame them, but damn, it hurt to be treated that way. He'd never harm a woman, but they didn't know that by looking at him.
Naked, he tried to ignore how thin he'd become in the two years since leaving the Corps. He'd once been moderately muscled, fifty pounds heavier, and a lot stronger than he was presently. Entering the shower, Reese knew his weakness was directly attributable to not eating for days at a time. Even now, he felt his body responding powerfully to the cupcakes he'd eaten. His stomach growled for more, but as Reese turned on the heavy, warm spray, it was a helluva lot more than he'd ever expected from anyone.
* * *
Charlie smiled from behind the counter as Reese approached, holding his old clothes. Reese smelled food. Real food. And then, he spotted two large Styrofoam boxes near Charlie's elbow, where he sat on that aged stool.
"You clean up real good, Mr. Lockhart," Charlie said, rising and taking his clothes. "I'm assuming these are DOA?"
Reese nodded. "Yeah, pretty much. Thanks for your help here." He motioned to the clothes he now wore.
"Like I said," Charlie murmured, dumping the clothes into a huge wastebasket, "our country owes you." He came back and pushed the two Styrofoam boxes toward him. "I called up Kassie Murphy. She owns Kassie's Café down the next block on the plaza. I asked if she'd donate you some vittles. Once she found out you were a vet, Kassie said to tell you it's on the house. You can come and eat at her establishment anytime you want, no questions asked. Folks in these parts? Many of them served, and have sons or daughters in the military. So we have a real soft spot in our heart for military vets like yourself. I hope you like the two hamburgers, coleslaw, and French fries. Julie, one of the waitresses who brought these over here for you, said there's homemade apple pie with three scoops of vanilla ice cream in there, too. Why don't you grab that chair back at the coffee station, sit down, and enjoy your meal? Shay won't be here for another hour."
"Thanks," Reese said. "And thank everyone over at Kassie's Café for me?"
"Oh," Charlie murmured, shrugging, "I've a feeling when Shay gets a gander at how strong and tall you are, she'll hire you on the spot. And then, when it suits you later, you can go over and thank those hardworking gals at Kassie's yourself."
It was all Reese could do to hold it together. He carefully walked to the coffee station, holding the boxes in his hands as if they were the greatest treasure on earth. His feet were warm. He was clean. Really clean. There had been a toothbrush and toothpaste in the cabinet as well. Deodorant. He'd used the scissors to cut his hair the best he could; it was still on his nape, but hopefully he didn't look like the homeless person of before. The beard was gone, thanks to the fact that Charlie had stashed five razors in the medicine cabinet. And he'd used all of them, since his beard was so damned wiry and thick. Emotions swept through him as he sat down and opened up the container with the two huge hamburgers. The scent of the food nearly made him faint. It smelled so good.
Reese had never starved in his life except for the last year. Jobs had been sparse, and then only part-time or they were seasonal and ended in a month or two. Sometimes he was fired because he couldn't handle the stressful demands that forced him to work swiftly and continuously. His anxiety ran him. He had no control over it and he'd found out quickly, after his discharge, that a stressful job only tripled the monstrous anxiety that was always there, always waiting to leap upon him and scatter his thoughts, his actions.
As he bit into the burger, he closed his eyes, made a low sound of pleasure in the back of his throat, slumping against the metal chair, in Nirvana. Reese knew if he gulped it down, he'd more than likely throw it up, so he tamped down on the animal desire to gulp. He chewed it slowly, savoring every last bite of the lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cheddar cheese, and bacon on it. It took him thirty minutes to clean up everything. The apple pie was melt-in-your mouth, reminding him of his mother's own home-cooked pies.
An old ache centered in his heart. His parents wanted him home, but God, that had been a disaster. Reese wasn't going to make them pay for his PTSD, and they didn't understand why he had to leave. He wasn't the best at talking about his shame over the symptoms that he couldn't control. His father had been in the military, retired, and was now a hardworking mechanic. He had saved all his life for retirement, and Reese wasn't about to take his money that he'd offered to him. He had to stand on his own two feet, pull himself up by his bootstraps, and not accept handouts.
Excerpted from Wind River Rancher by Lindsay McKenna. Copyright © 2017 Nauman Living Trust. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love this book! I haven't started the next book in the series yet, but I think I'll be reading it next.
I have long been a fan of Ms. McKenna’s books – and a rabid Delos series reader! – and I have read the first Wind River story. However, Wind River Rancher touched me, on so many levels, right from page 1. Yeah, I was a little annoyed that I started snifflin’ so early in the book but truly, it will touch your heart and soul. Maybe it is because she was in the military herself, still works with and supports military families and vets, or maybe it is because she feels what a Vet is going thru. I am just happy that she creates these stories for us to read and enjoy. WRR is about Shay Crawford, a veteran, and Reese Lockhart, also a veteran. Shay is building a ranch for wounded vets where they can heal and truly feel useful to society – and themselves. All of the wranglers, including Shay, are a ragtag group that has formed a family. And they welcome Reese into their fold right away. He makes a difference, to all, but mostly to Shay and himself. What a healing journey for these two! We get to meet some characters from the previous book – no biggee, this is a standalone novel – and they add some spice to this story. I love Charlie; you’ll meet him right away and he is a big part of the reason for my beginning sniffles. There’s lots of heart in this story! I won’t recap because it is too good for me to condense into not-quite-enough words. I wholeheartedly recommend Wind River Rancher and will bet that you fall in love with Reese at page one.
"Wind River Rancher" is the 2nd in the series, with some familiar friends from book 1. That being said, it is a stand alone book and as always from Lindsay McKenna, a well written love story. I will say that Shay and Reese's story seemed to be more emotional. The struggles that Reese was enduring with his PTSD, and the healing process he went through, did have me in tears at times. Shay and Reese's story had a lot of ups and downs in it, a lot of emotions, as well as being romantic with a HEA. I love all the guys on the Bar C ranch and look forward to their stories and HEAs as well. The book is inspiring and may not be to everyone's taste when they are reading something that may have some truth in it when dealing with PTSD and everyday struggles for Vets. I loved it and look forward to the next in the series. I would like to thank NetGalley and Kensington Books and gifting me "Wind River Rancher" and asking for my honest opinion. This is mine. 4.25 Stars!
Shay is a veteran and had an abusive upbringing. She struggles to keep her ranch. Her principles include only hiring other vets with PTSD. Enter Reese. He has fallen on very hard times dealing with his illness. There is an instant spark between them, but they slowly get to know each other until the time is right. I enjoyed the interaction of Shay, Reese, the other veteran ranch hands, and the all the locals. I read the first in this series, and look forward to the next. I received a copy of this story through Netgalley, and this is my unsolicited review.
Reece and Shaylene are trying to rebuild their lives from the stress and PTSD of being in the military on a healing Wyoming Ranch . So enjoy this author and settings with characters the reader can relate and invest in their stories. Looking forward to the next book. Ebook from netgalley and publishers with thanks. Opinions are entirely my own.
I thought this was a wonderful story that was very well done. It's another look at the struggles our vets deal with on a daily basis and how just a little kindness from all of us can help them get their lives together. In this story Reese Lockhart is most definitely down on his luck. Homeless, jobless, and hungry he staggers into the feed depot in a town just outside Jackson Hole looking for work. The kindness of the owner is astounding and before Reese knows it his life is turned around. He's working on the Bar C, a ranch owned by Shaylene Crawford who is also a vet. She along with the help of a small handful of vets are trying to turn the ranch into a place other vets can come to work and deal with their demons. Someone is trying to keep that from happening and Reese is determined to keep both the woman and the dream safe. An excellent read and I definitely recommend it.
This was a book that elicited a multitude of emotions. From the very first pages , I felt my heart squeezed, eyes water, and just devastated by the reminders of the effects war has on the troops. Yes , it’s a story about Reece the ex-Marine suffering from PTSD who is down on his luck and finds himself in a town that lend a hand. And Shay, herself a vet, and owner of a ranch that employs veterans. But it is much more than that. It’s a story about veterans returning from war. The number of vets suffering from PTSD is astronomical. The reality is that the Veteran hospitals are understaffed, over worked and thus unable to really help the veterans that are in need of not only physical , but psychological help. We as individuals and as a nation need to do more for these men and women who go to battle so that we can sleep in peace at night. Kudos to Ms McKenna for writing this book. I was gifted this copy by Netgalley. The opinions expressed are solely my own.
A message of hope delivered through the pages of a romantic suspense novel. Wind River Rancher not only entertains, it informs. Ms. McKenna sheds light on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the struggle it's victims experience on a daily basis. Reese is a man focused on moving forward, but the demons from his past keep trying to pull him back in. Shaylene, is an inspiring work of art. Guiding by her heart, yet trying to escape her past has led her on a path to help those that may not have been as lucky as herself. Through Shaylene and Reese, Wind River Rancher uplifts, delivers insight and engrosses.
Big issues discussed with potential for much more to be said about them in the books that may follow. I felt the ending was a bit abrupt with issues like what happens with Shay’s father, low ranch income, potential of future foreclosure, and what the futures of the three other wranglers with PTSD on the Bar C Ranch might end up being. I also felt that Reese and Shay were left dangling even though they were engaged with a wedding date in sight. The story had a feel-good-do-good aspect along with a bit of with an entire small town community pulling together to help one another out and most willing to employ ex-military. The book was educational in discussing PTSD a bit. I came away feeling that the author believes, as do many, that military veterans are not given the support they need when discharged and that this one small community could be a prototype for others to emulate – although – that would probably require a fairy godmother to come in with big bucks or a very magic wand. Do I recommend this book? – Yes, if you like slower paced, small town stories with happy endings and don’t mind a bit of predictability in the plot. I believe that there will be at least three more books in the future to discuss Noah, Garrett and Harper – the other three men on the Bar C Ranch. I looked up book one in the series since I had not read it and though it is set in the same locale I found it did not pertain to Bar C and this group of characters. At least I don’t think it did. What would I like to see in future books of the series? More back story for the characters and what caused their PTSD – it was mentioned a bit but perhaps an educational or informational blurb with signs, symptoms, causes, treatment, etc at the back might be beneficial – especially to someone who is reading and has no clue what it is or might be married to someone that has it and has not been diagnosed. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the copy of this book. This is my honest review. 3 Stars
Crosses the river and finds a small kit despite to reach the Riverside. Aww how cute! Looks around for the kits mother. There was no ather cat around. Pore kit. I decided to keep the kit. I will name him graykit and he will be my kit. Grabs graykit out of the water and managed to get graykit to the Riverside and dry him.:-)