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It's hard to hide the heart in the high country as Bradford Thorne and Sheelinn MacNamara soon discover
When he breaks up with his controlling ex, sci fi novelist Bradford Thorne heads for the high country to work on his new novel. Specifically, he finds sanctuary at a horse ranch that breeds pintos.
Ranch owner Sheelinn MacNamara's a puca on the run from Hunters. Shapeshifting Linn can turn into a black stallion or a , but his secret keeps him from finding love.
Neither of them is anticipating the effect the other has on their libido, or on Bradford's ex, Victor. They're not looking for love, but it's hard to hide from the heart in high country.
Snow mantled the sharp peaks of the Rockies, the stark lines and ridges rising into the vivid blue of the sky. The road wended its way between the crags, the rental car rolling along on the pavement as the miles ticked by.
The view was spectacular, and the driver—Bradford Thorne, also known as Bradley Thornton, science fiction author—glanced this way and that as he drove higher and higher into the mountains. He kept watching for the turnoff onto the ranch road, but so far he hadn't spotted it.
He glanced at his watch. I should be there by now. He said about an hour from Boulder on Highway 36.
He ran a hand through his unruly mop of brown hair and sighed, anxious to get started on his vacation.
Some vacation. I've left the city, and though I plan to work while I'm here anyway, it will be a nice break from the usual grind. God, the mountains are spectacular, they really are.
He tore his eyes away from the beauty and grinned when he spotted a large white sign beside the dusty road that read:
HIGH COUNTRY RANCH
HORSES OF COLOR
MARES AND FOALS FOR SALE
At the bottom was a phone number he recognized as the one he'd called to rent the cabin where he'd be spending the next month. He slowed the car, put on his blinker, and made the turn with caution when the road turned out to be unpaved, rather than dust-covered asphalt. Even going slow, the ride down the dirt path was a bumpy one. He glanced at the laptop case on the seat beside him and hoped nothing rattled loose.
The last thing I need is a broken computer in the middle of nowhere.
He slowed more when he came to a rut running crosswise to the road, and the car bounced and rocked as it traversed the shallow ditch and climbed up the other side.
I guess they've been getting a lot of rain.
He loved the rain, and the thought of rain coming down in such beautiful country, the flash of lightning among the mountains, sent a chill of hopeful expectation through him.
This is going to be great! I've got four entire weeks for less than what two weeks cost me the last time I took a vacation. A vacation that had been a huge disappointment. Not only hadn't he gotten much writing done, but he'd also wound up with food poisoning from the buffet on the cruise ship. He'd spent four days of pure misery in the ship's infirmary along with two dozen other passengers.
This is going to be a lot better. I just know it will be.
Best of all, Victor has no idea where I've gone.
Victor Augustine, his former lover. He didn't want to think about Victor. Sure, it had been great…at first. But Victor had turned into a control freak about a month into their relationship, and by their six-month anniversary as lovers, controlling had turned into domineering shading toward abusive.
Do not need the drama.
He had enough stress dealing with his agent, his publisher, and the occasional appearances at conventions. The last thing he needed were problems in his home life.
The car rounded a thick stand of trees, and the ranch came into view. White fences corralled grazing horses, all of them patchworks in black, brown, gold, and white, with a few spotted horses in the mix. The house itself was large, a ranch style—of course—with a large picture window at the front. Several SUVs and pickup trucks lined the double-wide driveway.
He slowed even more and brought the car to a stop behind a rust-spotted blue pickup truck that was missing its tailgate.
A brown mutt with a shaggy coat ran up to the car, wagging its tail and barking up a storm. Not sure how friendly the dog was, Brad waited in the car for someone to come out of the house.
It didn't take long for someone to appear from around the back of the house. The man was lean and lanky, dressed in dirty, work-faded, and aged jeans and a T-shirt for some sort of horse-related event. Possibly a rodeo, or maybe a race, he couldn't tell because only the horse remained. The cloth was stretched tightly over broad shoulders and a well-defined chest that tapered to flat, ripped abs that were quite visible under the rather tight shirt. The sleeves of the T-shirt were gone, which showed off well-defined triceps and biceps and the deep sort of tan you only got from working outside. A cowboy hat and boots completed the man's attire. He moved with the assurance of someone who knew his place in the world and enjoyed the life he led. A thrum of desire rolled through Bradford as he watched the cowboy approach.
That's one very attractive man, he admitted to himself as the dog—which had been barking his head off since he drove up—left the side of his car and ran to the man. It began to jump up and down, excited, tail wagging so fast, it became a blur. Whether it was because of the cowboy's arrival or the strange car in the yard, Bradford didn't know.
The guy came around to the driver's-side door and leaned down to peer into the window. There were faint lines around his eyes, the sort that came from squinting in the sunlight. The eyes themselves were a light amber color that reminded him of a ring his mother used to wear, or maybe good-quality beer. I could sure go for a beer and something to eat. I should have stopped at one of those diners I passed. Too late now.
The cowboy smiled at him, which increased the crinkles at the corners of his eyes.
Make that damn attractive. He found himself staring at the man's smiling mouth, wondering what it would be like to kiss him. Okay, it hasn't been that long since you broke up with Victor, so it's not as if you haven't been laid recently. Take it easy. Besides, he's probably not even bisexual, much less gay. These rugged cowboy types are usually straight as they come. Too bad, though. I wouldn't mind a literal roll in the hay.
He reached for the button to roll down the window, but the smiling cowboy opened the door before he got the chance. Brad stepped out of the car.
"Hey, I guess you must be the guy who rented the vacation cabin." The cowboy held out his hand. "I'm Sheelinn MacNamara. Friends usually call me Linn." He motioned to the dog that stood near the car wagging his tail, tongue lolling from his mouth. "This is Dingbat, so named for the way he acts when visitors come by."
"I'm Bradford Thorne. Everyone winds up calling me Brad," he replied, taking the offered hand. The man's grip was firm but not hard enough to hurt. The warmth of the man's skin and his easy smile put Bradford at ease. He didn't think MacNamara had ever met a stranger; everyone was a friend in the making. At least that was the impression Brad got from the way the guy acted.
The rancher held his hand a little longer than necessary, and his amber gaze roamed over Brad from head to toe. Is he checking me out or…what? The man's smile widened into a grin. "When you told me you were an author, I expected a pudgy old guy," MacNamara remarked. "Not a guy in his early thirties who looks like he works for a living."
Brad chuckled. "That's what most people expect." He'd learned early on that mental work led to snacking, and he either had to control his eating with fanatic zeal or hit the exercise equipment daily. If he didn't, he got a case of author's gut from too many snacks and not enough physical activity. Working out meant he could have his midafternoon snack. "Believe me, writing is hard work. Using your mind to such a degree can be very exhausting. Especially when you finally glance at the clock and realize you've been at it for twelve solid hours."
"Well, I suppose any job tends to wear a person out by the end of the workday," Linn remarked. "There's no driveway around to the cabin, so I'll show you the way back there. I'll have some of the hands help you with your suitcases."
Brad shook his head. "No need. I've got them." He opened the trunk and got out his suitcase, retrieved the laptop from the front seat, and turned an expectant look on Linn.
"Okay then, follow me."
Brad followed the rancher around the house, which had hidden a pair of stables, and a few more fenced paddocks, where several more of the patchwork horses grazed peacefully. The smell of manure and animals made a pungent counterpoint to the crisp mountain air. It reminded him of summers spent with his grandparents on their Pennsylvania farm, though they'd had a couple of ponies and cows, not horses. He smiled at the memory.
"The smell's not going to bother you, is it?" the rancher asked. "We had a lady author here a couple years ago, and she was really unhappy. Said it stank so much she couldn't work."
"It's fine. I spent my childhood on a farm."
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