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Noah Ramos is on the run from his past, and he’s hoping to start fresh at the Kelmount Ranch as their new ranch manager. When he meets Bailey, the Alpha’s sister, he knows she’s his mate. But Bailey is hesitant to get involved with a lone wolf, especially one with a shadowy past.
As Noah and Bailey get to know each other, they can’t deny the strong attraction between them. But just as they’re starting to explore their relationship, Noah’s ex-girlfriend arrives, determined to win him back. She’ll stop at nothing to get rid of Bailey, even if it means putting the whole ranch in danger.
With romance blossoming and suspense mounting, Noah and Bailey will have to fight for their happy ending. Can they overcome the obstacles in their way and find lasting love?
The 10:00 a.m. sun was bright, sending hot beams down to burn Bailey Kelmount’s eyes. She blinked the stinging tears the rays caused away. Of course, she’d forgotten her sunglasses this morning. She’s been in such a rush, trying to get out to the pastures and help round up the calves, that she’d barely stopped for coffee and a muffin, let alone remembering to grab her sunglasses.
She was regretting only grabbing one measly applesauce muffin, too. Her stomach was beginning to gnaw on her backbone. A shifter’s metabolism was higher than a normal human’s, and Bailey tended to eat three big meals and two or three substantial snacks a day. That applesauce muffin was long gone, and the opportunity for a snack or lunch was still hours away.
Bailey pursed her lips, considering if there was a way she could dump all of the work involving the calves onto Logan and the others and sneak away to the manager’s office. She had snacks stashed in there, and there was always a shit-load of work to do in the office. It seemed like there was always work to do. Being the ranch manager was a full-time job, and Bailey was doing all she could until a new manager was hired. But she had taken on those responsibilities in addition to her regular ranch chores until she barely had a moment to herself.
Bailey rolled her shoulders and scowled at the happy bark coming from her left. She turned to look and, sure enough, Logan was running up and down, herding the cattle. Because he’d been first, he’d shifted and was letting his wolf have some fun.
She felt a shaft of irritation at that. But it was her fault for hitting the snooze button on her alarm. He let out happy yips, coming over to run circles around her. He nudged her a couple of times before she focused her attention on him.
“What?” she demanded irritably. “Are you wanting to show off? Go away, you silly wolf.”
He growled playfully and jumped up, placing his huge front paws on her horse’s side just behind her leg, making the horse stagger a bit with his weight. His wolf’s voice whispered into her mind. Come play, Bailey. We’ll have the cattle rounded up by lunch.
She shoved at him. “I can’t,” she replied out loud. “One of us has to help the others actually catch and corral the cattle. I don’t have time to play.” A note of regret tinged her words.
Roger, one of their oldest hands, spoke up from his saddle. “Well, now, Bailey, the boys and I can corral the beasts just fine. It’s been a while since you let your wolf out, and it’s such a pretty morning. You go on ahead.”
Bailey hesitated, twin glimmers of hope and excitement threading through her. “Are you sure, Roger?”
He nodded his grizzled head, giving her an indulgent smile. “You’re working yourself into the ground, Bailey, and you deserve to run a bit on a fine day like today.”
Bailey glanced back down at Logan’s black wolf, and he showed his agreement by wriggling his entire body. She laughed and slid from her saddle. After handing the reins of her sorrel mare to Roger, Bailey walked to a small stand of ponderosa pines so she could shed her clothes and shift.
She let the breeze flow over her naked body for a just a moment before letting her wolf take over. She felt the familiar, welcome stretch and snap of bones, the elongating muzzle, and the slightly prickly sensation of fur covering her body. Within seconds, a light-brown wolf, with fur the color of cinnamon, stood in the woman’s place.
Bailey pranced out from behind the trees and sent a soft woof to her brother. He answered in kind and ran toward her. Bailey met him in a headlong rush, clashing her body against his and sending them both rolling along the grass-covered ground. Logan nipped at her left hind leg, she used her tail to deflect him, and then they took off, side by side, in a loping run. Their joyful barks mingled together.
Ten minutes, Bailey told herself as the wind ruffled her fur and happiness flooded her. Ten minutes to play, then they’d get back to work. She sent the thought to Logan, who nodded. Then he turned his body into her, causing her to stumble, and he playfully held her down.
She twisted her body, using her back legs to gain traction in the soft grass, and managed to lever herself up so that she could place her head against Logan’s right shoulder. They pushed against each other until Logan’s wolf laughingly asked if she’d been working out.
The comment caused Bailey to snort and lose her concentration. She went tumbling back down while Logan bounded to his feet. They wrestled for another few minutes, playful growls and barks punctuating the air. Finally, she managed to flip Logan onto his back, causing him to give a grunt of surprise.
He was back up in a flash, giving her a smirking smile. Or what passed for a smirking smile on a wolf’s face anyway. Race you back, his wolf challenged.
She leapt to her feet, the challenge accepted. After counting back from three, she took off like a bullet, Logan a half step behind her. Bailey streaked toward Roger, feeling her paws barely touching the ground. This was glorious. Running with the wind, besting her brother, the only concern being the fastest.
Bailey saw a blur of black on her left and dug down for another burst of speed. She shot ahead like a bullet, her back paws kicking up a little dirt into Logan’s muzzle. She gave a wheezing snuffle when she realized what she’d done.
And then she was there, jolting to a stop where Roger sat placidly on his horse, eying both wolves with a smile on his face. Bailey let her tongue loll out of her mouth, panting from both exertion and exhilaration. Logan sat beside her, casting her sulky looks out of his blue eyes.
Cheater, his wolf muttered, and Roger snickered. Bailey tossed her head and trotted a few feet away, her tail high in the air. She paused midway, kicking both her back feet one at a time and sending up little plumes of dirt in her brother’s direction. Roger’s laughter followed her as she turned a circle and sent a thought to Logan.
Play time’s over. Let’s get started.
This time, when she and Logan ran, it was to herd cattle. The yearly vaccinations were due, and so all of the cows had to be rounded up and brought to a central pasture so the vet could administer the shots. It was hot, sweaty work, but it had to be done.
Bailey ran beside a long stream of red and white Hereford cows, keeping them together as she drove them toward the waiting men on horseback. Then the men took over, using their horses to keep the cattle together while Bailey went back for another batch.
Logan was rounding them up and grouping them together, along with Roger and a couple more ranch hands, so Bailey could get the next round started. Before long, they fell into an easy rhythm. An hour passed, then two. By the time the third hour was coming to an end, Bailey called for a break. It was time for lunch. She had to eat, like now, or pass out from hunger.
She went back behind the stand of pines, shifted to her human form, and tugged on her clothes. When she rejoined the crew, Logan hurried away to shift back. Finally, the coolers holding the food and drinks were opened, and Bailey pounced on the offerings.
“God bless Ma,” she breathed reverently as she lifted fat turkey sandwiches, bowls of potato salad, and bags of chips from one cooler. She looked over and felt her mouth water as Logan pulled out slices of both cherry and peach pie and glossy red apples from another. A third cooler held bottles of water, cans of soda, and mason jars of tea, the lids screwed on tight.
Bailey bit into a sandwich, almost moaning with delight. She snagged a jar of tea and a bag of salt-and-vinegar chips. She settled beside Logan and watched as he heaped a plate full of potato salad.
He took a bite, chewing and swallowing before speaking. “That man who applied for ranch manager is supposed to be coming today for an interview.” He shoveled in more potato salad and even managed to shove in a third of his sandwich.
Bailey shook her head. “How can you cram all of that into your mouth at once?” she wondered. “But yeah, Sawyer is going to do the initial meet and greet with him, to feel him out. If Sawyer thinks he’s a good fit, he’ll send him over to me.”
“Then what?” Logan wanted to know, reaching for a can of soda and guzzling half of it.
Bailey shrugged, polishing off her sandwich and reaching for another. “Then I’ll put him through the ringer, test his aggression. We’re going to be picky on this one, Logan. Extra picky. You know what happened last time.” Her voice grew husky, and she cleared her throat by gulping her tea.
Logan dropped a hand onto her shoulder, giving her a reassuring squeeze. “It wasn’t your fault, Bailey. It wasn’t anyone’s fault except that fucker Doug’s.”
“Yeah, well, Dad’s still dead, isn’t he? And that fucker Doug is the one who killed him.” Bailey blew out a breath as her heart ached. She was still raw, still bitter, and probably always would be, she silently admitted. Then she changed the subject. “Grab me a slice of cherry pie, would you, before it’s all gone? Then we’ll finish this up.”
After repacking all of the coolers with what little remained of their lunch provisions, the crew climbed back into the saddles and began the final part of the day’s task. Bailey and Logan brought up the rear, making sure no stragglers remained behind, as the cattle were herded to the designated pasture. The vet was waiting, armed with needles and vials of the vaccines. Bailey watched as all of the cows were ushered in, then closed the gate.
She shifted in her saddle as Doc Hanson, the vet, walked over. “We’re leaving Roger and two of the others with you,” Bailey told her. “That way, one can help you catch a cow and hold it while you give it the shots, then another can lead that cow to the other side of the pasture, where Roger will let it out. It’ll probably take you the rest of today. Maybe even tomorrow morning.”
Tina just shrugged her shoulders. “I cleared tomorrow anyway. Your mom has offered to let me stay at the ranch tonight, so at least I’ll get a couple of good meals out of it, on top of the pay.” She grinned, showing even, white teeth. “It’s always a good payday when the Kelmounts call for a vet.”
Bailey laughed. “Glad we can be of service. C’mon, Logan!” she called. “Let’s see if you can beat me in a horse race!”
Logan moved his bay gelding to stand beside her. “Let’s not,” he decided. “I’m too tired, and you’ll just cheat again. It’s not that far to the house anyway. And you know as soon as we get back, Sawyer will hit us with more ranch work of some kind.”
Bailey grimaced. “This is true. All right, no race. Let’s just go home.”
They began an easy canter toward the house, a companionable silence between them. About halfway to the house Bailey heard the sound. It was the plaintive bawl of a calf, and it was laced with pain and fear.
Bailey wheeled her horse to the left. “Let’s check it out,” she said. “I can’t stand it when a calf makes that kind of noise. It hurts my heart.”
Logan agreed, and they kicked up to a gallop, reining the horses to a stop a several yards later. A black calf, one who looked only a few months old, lay tangled in barbed wire. His eyes wheeled in shock, and his breathing was labored. Bailey was instantly out of the saddle.
“Poor baby,” she crooned, dropping to her knees. “It’s all right, we’ll help you.” She shot a look at Logan, who dismounted and came over to help.
“Go back and see if Roger has any wire cutters,” she demanded. “I don’t have any, and I don’t think you do either.”
Logan nodded and swung back into his saddle, giving Bailey one last look before galloping back to the pasture.