Still waters run deep . . .
From the moment Roan Taggart picked up the pretty redhead at the Jackson Hole airport, his training and experience told him she was spooked. She’s left New York City to visit the Wind River Ranch, where Roan is a wrangler, and just as he can pick up a horse’s mood, he can feel the tension coming off her body. And that vulnerability is triggering all his protective instincts. . .
Shiloh Gallagher likes the gray-eyed cowboy’s dry humor—and the Special Forces background that lends him a stoic, powerful presence. But she’s been scarred by trauma and her mother’s murder . . . and knows a strong man can be dangerous. She came to wide-open Wyoming to flee a threat that’s left her unable to write her novels. Now, as she rides horses with Roan and helps him build an isolated cabin, she’s slowly letting down her guard. But danger has followed her west, and they won’t have a future together unless they defeat a killer from her past. . .
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lindsay McKenna is the pseudonym of award-winning author Eileen Nauman. With more than 135 titles to her credit and approximately 23 million books sold in 33 countries worldwide, Lindsay is one of the most distinguished authors in the women's fiction genre. She is the recipient of many awards, including six RT Book Reviews awards (including best military romance author) and an RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award. In 1999, foreseeing the emergence of ebooks, she became the first bestselling women's fiction author to exclusively release a new title digitally. In recognition of her status as one of the originators of the military adventure/romance genre, Lindsay is affectionately known as “The Top Gun of Women's Military Fiction.” Please visit her website at www.LindsayMcKenna.com.
Read an Excerpt
Wind River Wrangler
By Lindsay McKenna
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Nauman Living Trust
All rights reserved.
The doorknob slowly, soundlessly, turned.
Shiloh Gallagher stood, her hands clasped against her chest, her whole focus on the slow movement. Oh, God, it was her stalker! Again. Painfully, she swallowed against a tightening throat. She stood in her New York City apartment, feeling almost faint with fear. The police didn't believe her. They said it was all in her head. Some even suggested that because she was a New York Times best-selling author, she was making such a big deal to get publicity. Oh, God ... Her entire body was so tense she felt like she might snap and fall into a million terrified pieces.
The doorknob slowly turned in the other direction.
Her heart was pounding so hard in her ears she couldn't hear anything else. Her hands were damp and clammy, fingers white as she gripped them together. She wanted to cry out for help. But no one would come. No one cared.
The doorknob stilled.
Would her stalker try to break in? Instantly, her gaze flew to the four locks she had on the thick mahogany door. It was a solid door. She lived in a tenth-floor apartment in an old building from the 1930s. Things were made to withstand the test of time. She licked her lips, praying her stalker would leave.
This had happened nearly every day of the week for the past two weeks.
The police were tired of her calls. They had come out to investigate. Dusted her doorknob for fingerprints and found nothing. No one else in the building had seen anyone, either, as the officers canvassed her floor.
Her knees were quivering so badly Shiloh thought she would fall. Who was doing this to her? First, faxes had come over her machine with the words: "I'm going to get you." And then, her landline had a message with a man breathing heavily. The police said because she was a romance writer, one of her crazed fans, a man, was behind the notes and calls. Harmless.
For six months, she'd been tortured daily. Shiloh couldn't write. She lived from one mysterious noise, sound, fax, or phone message to another.
A crazed fan?
Was that her stalker's identity? A man who read her best-selling romance novels? A sick, perverted bastard?
The doorknob slowly started moving counterclockwise.
Shiloh gasped, her hand against her mouth. Her eyes widened enormously. What if he had a way to get past her deadbolt locks? She lived like a terrified animal in her small apartment. Afraid to go out. Afraid to walk the hall any longer, fearing someone was waiting for her. She'd stopped having lunch with her editor, Molly Williams. Every time Shiloh tried to sneak out to go get groceries or see her editor, the hair on the back of her neck rose in warning. As if someone were watching her.
The knob stopped turning.
Her heart thundered. She tried to hear over the pounding of it in her ears.
Desperately, Shiloh wanted to call the police. They were so tired of her calls after the first two months, they'd say yeah, they'd send over a cruiser, but no cop ever showed up. Lip service. No one believed her.
Had she ever seen this guy? the police always asked. No. She never saw him. God knew, she was looking for him, but on a crowded New York City street, he could be anyone. What did a crazed romance fan look like?
The knob turned again.
Her breath jammed in her throat. She was shaking physically now. Her knees felt so weak, Shiloh thought she might fall onto the carpeted floor.
The knob stopped turning.
A sizzling bit of relief tore through her. How many times was it going to happen? Who was standing on the other side of that door? What did he want? She instinctively knew this man wanted to kill her. She felt it. The policemen just nodded, as if bored, when they came to her door on other occasions, and she could see they didn't believe her.
Her whole world was on a slow-motion reel of destruction and she felt as if life was one long, unending nightmare. Tears squeezed out of her eyes as she pressed her hand hard against her mouth. Her gaze was riveted on the doorknob, breath jammed in her aching throat. She waited.
How many times would he twist the doorknob? Why was he doing this to her? Shiloh had never hurt anyone in her life. She tried to be kind and generous to everyone she met. She had seen the world's ugliness at ten years old when her stepfather, Anton Leath, had stabbed her mother, Isabella, with a skinning knife in a fit of rage. She had stood in the entrance to the kitchen, frozen.
Just like she was frozen right now.
Oh, God, why wouldn't this harassment stop? What had she done to deserve this? And no one believed her! Except for Molly, who was clearly worried because she had a book due in six months. Shiloh could see the look on her forty-year-old editor's face, wondering if she was going to meet the contract deadline or not.
The doorknob remained still.
Releasing a hesitant breath as her hand left her lips, Shiloh couldn't tear her gaze from it. Was he standing outside her door? Waiting? Did she dare peek out the peephole? Every time she got up the gumption to do it, the hall was empty. The police had demanded an identification. A face.
Pushing herself, her motion wooden and jerky, knees nearly failing her, Shiloh forced herself to the door. She held her breath, slid the brass circle off the peephole. Looking out, she saw the carpeted hall that led to the elevators at the other end of it. The hall was empty.
With a little cry, she slumped against the door, eyes tightly shut, her knees giving way. As she slid down to the floor, her back against the door, her heart continued to pound in her chest.
She couldn't go on like this.
Every cell in her body was on high alert. Her brain screamed at her to run away. To leave the city. Disappear. Get rid of the stalker no one could find.
Swallowing against a dry mouth, her throat tight, a huge lump aching in it, Shiloh sat, feeling vulnerable and unable to defend herself.
It was just like that afternoon when Anton Leath and her mother got into a heated argument. She'd stood there, paralyzed, terrified of her stepfather who was angry and abusive to her mother and to herself. Only this time, her mother had rounded on him, screaming at him. He'd picked up the knife he had laying at the end of the counter. Her mother was preparing roast beef for dinner that night.
Tightly shutting her eyes, Shiloh would never get that afternoon out of her head. On bad days, she'd remember it all too clearly. It was as if it happened in slow motion, the knife rising in Leath's large, thick hand, her mother's eyes widening in disbelief as he pushed her into the corner so she couldn't escape. The blade slicing down savagely. Her mother's terrified screams, arms flailing. Blood spurting out of her chest. Blood all over the wall and the kitchen counter. And then, blood across the floor as she sagged downward, Anton breathing heavily, watching her slip to the floor, knife gripped hard in his hand.
It was then Shiloh had turned, racing out of the kitchen, as if on fire. She'd run out the front door, out onto the sidewalk, screaming for help. Fortunately, there was a cop on the beat half a block away. He heard her shrieks and came running. All Shiloh could do was sob and point toward the open door. Screaming "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy's hurt! Hurt! Help her! Help!"
The words rolled around in her brain and Shiloh sobbed softly, burying her face in her hands. That was nineteen years ago and it was still as fresh, vivid, and stark as it was the day her mother was ripped out of her life. Her father had died two years earlier from a massive heart attack. So young ... so alive. Shiloh had been so fiercely loved by both of them. And when she was just ten years old, her parents were both gone. Tragically gone.
Sniffing, the hot tears rolling down her taut cheeks, Shiloh looked around her parents' apartment. She'd lived there since birth. An apartment filled with memories, photos of her mother and father. Daily reminders. Good memories. Antiques they'd collected over the years were here and there. She loved the nineteenth century and her mother had painstakingly created a beautiful retreat. A place for her mother to paint and for her to write. A place to dream and create. She'd been so happy here. It was her sanctuary against the world. She loved New York City. Loved it's throbbing vibrancy, jogging daily in Central Park, walking the streets, buying food from a street vendor, watching someone play a guitar and putting money in his open instrument case. She'd been born in this city. It was in her blood.
But now her family's quaint, quiet apartment felt like it was closing in on her. She wanted to run away so badly she could scarcely control herself. She was shaking, crashing from all the adrenaline that had surged through her bloodstream. Shiloh couldn't stand up if she tried. So she sat on the floor, back against the thick, heavy mahogany door, staring toward the two windows that brought such bright, wonderful light into her home.
She had been at her tiger maple desk, working on a chapter on her Mac, when she'd heard the squeak of the brass doorknob being turned. She'd frozen, her gaze flying to it, the adrenaline slamming through her. It always reminded her of the same feeling she'd experienced when her mother had been murdered. And Shiloh hated it.
Rubbing her face, scrubbing away the tears, she tugged a strand of her red hair across her shoulder. Twisting it nervously around her finger, she tried to think through the fog of her dread. Her mind flip-flopped over so many ideas, but they kept coming back to one: calling Maud Whitcomb. She had been a dear friend of her mother's. Maud had bought several of her mother's very expensive paintings. And always, Maud, who was like a maternal grandmother to her, pleaded with Shiloh to come out to her Wyoming ranch for a visit.
Shiloh never did. She always kept in touch with Maud because she was an important person in her life. Especially since the murder of her mother. It was Maud who had flown back after Isabella's death, and been there for Shiloh while Child Protective Services sorted out whom she was legally to be given to.
In the end, her mother's younger sister, Lynn, and her husband, Robert Capland, had agreed to take her in because she was family. They too were shattered by her mother's death. The good news was that they lived in New York City, just a few blocks away from where Shiloh had grown up. Maud had hung around, a lynchpin emotionally for Shiloh for nearly two weeks, making sure she was settling in at Aunt Lynn and Uncle Robert's apartment, before she reluctantly had to leave to go back and help run the Wind River Ranch.
Shiloh never forgot Maud Whitcomb's grit, her responsibility toward her, or the ongoing attention and care for her over the years afterward. Maud never forgot her birthday. She'd send her JPEGs from time to time of the ranch, horses, buffalo, or cattle, saying she should come out West. It would do her good. In the last six months, that's all Shiloh had thought about: leaving New York and visiting Maud. Running away.
Chewing on her lower lip, brows dipping, Shiloh stared down at the beautiful nineteenth-century tapestry on the floor. It was from Persia, pale cream colors in the background with brilliant patches of woven flowers all across it. She loved that rug. It always lifted her spirit. Always made her yearn for the beauty of real wildflowers. What would it be like to walk through a field of them? That wouldn't happen here in New York City, she knew. But the rug fulfilled a yearning in her for nature.
The last six months, she'd been jogging less and less on her route through Central Park. Now, June first, she knew the grass would be a vibrant green, all the trees in full leafy green wardrobe. She ached to get out of the apartment, stretch her legs, feel the wind in her face, feel the throbbing life of the outdoors surrounding her. Shiloh wrote every day, but she made a point to jog every day, too. It was balancing mental activity with physical activity. It suited her. It had worked for years. Until her stalker silently, like a deadly, toxic fog, entered her life, unknown and unseen.
Now, Shiloh felt the adrenaline leaving her body. She was exhausted. She had to do something to break this cycle.
Slowly getting to her feet, she shuffled stiffly to her desk where she wrote. The window was curtained, a transparent white chiffon that made the other skyscrapers of New York look like archetypal symbols in a fog. Every book she'd written had been written at this desk.
Looking at the phone, she wondered if she could write anywhere else but here. Shiloh had never traveled outside the city. She lived in a fishbowl, but she was happy in it, with no need to go elsewhere. Everything she needed or wanted was right here. What should she tell Maud? The truth? That she was a coward? Running away from a fight? Couldn't take it anymore? That's how Shiloh felt: tired, beaten, and maneuvered into a corner where there was no escape. Just as Anton had shoved her mother into the corner of the kitchen, trapping her so he could stab her to death. She had no way to escape, either.
But Shiloh did.
Suddenly, she didn't care what Maud or her editor thought of her. She'd tried to dismiss the stalker. Tried to work with the police. But still, the stranger tormented her. Maybe if she was gone for two months, her nemesis would leave. No more faxes. No more heavy breathing over the phone. No more doorknobs twisting one way and then the other, the stalker wanting in to get to her.
With new determination, Shiloh picked up the phone, praying that Maud would allow her to travel to Wyoming for a visit to see her. It was the only hope she had left.
* * *
"Roan?" Maud Whitcomb called from the steps of the Wind River Ranch office porch. She waved toward a cowboy mounted on a blood bay quarter horse. He rode like he was born to the saddle, his gray Stetson low over his eyes, shading them from the welcome overhead sunlight. She saw him turn his gelding her way instead of heading down to where he and other wranglers were going to push about twenty head of cattle from one pasture to another.
She held on to her bright red baseball cap as the breeze picked up. When Roan drew near, she called, "I need to talk with you for a moment." She saw the man's hard, lined, and weathered face remain unchanged. It was his gray eyes that narrowed slightly. Maud pulled the screen door open and walked back to her office. Her husband, Steve Whitcomb, was behind the counter. This was where all the tourists coming in for a weeklong vacation would check in.
"I want to talk with Roan in back for a moment," she told Steve. Usually, Maud manned the desk midweek, fussing over paperwork, and her sixty-year-old husband was off with the wranglers doing ranch work to keep the place up and running.
"Got it," he told her, giving her a wink.
Roan opened the door, brushed his dusty boots off before entering. Taking off his Stetson, he nodded toward Steve, who nodded back.
"Come to the other office," Maud called, waving Roan to follow her.
Frowning, Roan wondered what was up. He was part of the wranglers behind the scenes who kept the largest ranch in the valley operational. He wanted nothing to do with the dude ranch families who came here on vacation.
He hit his hat against his thigh and dust flew off it. In long, casual strides, he headed down the highly waxed oak floor to the other office Maud had disappeared into. His curiosity was piqued because for the two years he'd worked at the ranch, Maud had never asked him to come into the office to speak privately with her. Other than giving him raises that he'd earned through a lot of hard, consistent work, she rarely called him aside.
Entering the office, he saw Maud sitting behind her messy desk. She'd taken off her baseball cap, her silver and black hair short and just below her ears. She was frowning, her expression worried.
"Shut the door, Roan. Thanks."
His straight, dark brown brows rose a little over the request. "What is this, Maud? A stealthy new procedure now in practice around the ranch?" Roan asked, giving her a teasing grin as he came over and settled in the chair. It was a normal chair but he wasn't normal size. He was six foot two and two hundred pounds of brute muscle. Good thing it didn't have arms on it or he'd never have fit into it. The metal chair squeaked as he sat down, hat resting on his long, hard thigh.
Maud chuckled a little and leaned back in the chair, rocking it slightly. "Some things need to be said behind closed doors."
Excerpted from Wind River Wrangler by Lindsay McKenna. Copyright © 2016 Nauman Living Trust. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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