What happens when you assume…
Poppy P.K. Chastain, a bright young lawyer with a new MBA, is sent by her international real estate development company in New York City to the ranchlands of Idaho to strike a deal with 5th generation cattle rancher Hunter McFall.
Slade & Howell needs land to build an access road to the mountain property they’re turning into a luxury guest resort. And a little slice of McFall Ranch is exactly what they’re looking for.
Too bad Hunter has no intention of selling. As he’s said in reply to the half-dozen letters and emails the company has sent him. He’s agreed to a meeting with this city lawyer P.K. Chastain. But as soon as he’s told the fellow no, he hopes that will be the end of it.
Turns out, it’s just the beginning.
Here’s the first chapter of HUNTER’S PRIDE.
Hunter McFall squinted his hazel eyes at the dust trail on the horizon and shook his head in annoyance. He didn’t have time for this. He had 1,500 head of cattle that needed moving to new pasture.
Not that it made this day any different from any other day. Cattle need to be rotated to fresh grazing land. The herd had spent the last week down on the flood plain beside the bend of Deer Creek. Today he wanted them moved into the foothills.
But he had Rolly Stevens to head up moving the beeves. Rolly had been with the McFalls since before Hunter ever sat on a horse. And the younger hands listened to the old man, respected him.
And if Hunter was honest with himself, he didn’t mind a day off the trail too badly. Except he wasn’t looking forward to this appointment.
The dust trail was closer now. Hunter sighed deeply and nudged the bay beneath him, gently pulling the reins to the right.
“Let’s go, Cheyenne,” he muttered. The horse tossed her head and turned to the right, heading back toward the house.
P.K. Chastain. Just the name irritated him. The notion of a grown man going by his initials struck him as pretentious as fuck. The fact that P.K. Chastain was a lawyer representing Slade & Howell didn’t engender him to Hunter anymore than his name did.
He’d received the letters and emails from this Chastain fellow, the ones making all kinds of shiny promises on behalf of Slade & Howell. But Hunter didn’t care. He wasn’t interested in selling any McFall land to some developer who wanted to build a mountain resort. Keep that shit over by Sun Valley if that’s what you had in mind.
Here in Deer Creek Valley and the Boxroot Mountains, McFalls had raised cattle for five generations, and by God, he intended to continue the family legacy until his last breath.
A vehicle came around the bend just as Hunter loosely wrapped Cheyenne’s reins around a rail in the shade of a large cottonwood. From beneath his wide-brimmed hat, he glowered at the silver Range Rover as it pulled to a stop along the side of the gravel drive. City people always fancied themselves rugged outdoorsmen when they came out to this neck of Idaho. Yet another reason he wasn’t interested in having a luxury resort anywhere near McFall.
He set his mouth in a firm line and walked toward the SUV. The driver’s door opened, and a shiny black high-heeled pump emerged, followed by a shapely calf. Surprised, Hunter stopped, watching as a petite redhead stepped out of the car. Her hair was done up in one of those fancy, efficient updos with a few loose wisps around her face, which was obscured by large designer sunglasses. Hunter’s eyes zeroed in on sensuously shaped ruby-red lips.
The woman leaned back into the SUV, affording Hunter a view of a nicely rounded ass, neatly packaged in a black pencil skirt. She emerged a moment later holding a tan leather satchel. Closing the car door, she marched toward him.
“Mr. McFall?” She stuck out a well-manicured hand, her nails painted the same red as her lips. “I’m P.K. Chastain. We’ve emailed back and forth?”
Slowly, Hunter reached out and took her tiny hand in his own, suddenly aware of how rough and calloused ranch work made them.
“You’re P.K. Chastain?”
The redhead tilted her head and removed the sunglasses, revealing deep chestnut eyes in a shade he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen before. “You were expecting a man, I suppose.” Her tone was defensive.
“I guess when I heard that a lawyer was coming out here, I just assumed.”
P.K. Chastain narrowed her eyes at him. “Maybe the news didn’t make it this far out in the boondocks,” she said, one hand holding the satchel, the other a fist on her hip. “But it’s the 21st century now. Women get to vote and everything.”
Hunter suppressed a grin, his mustache shifting with the effort. “Seems I heard tell about something like that,” he drawled for effect. “Maybe it was the fact that you go by your initials. What does P.K. stand for, anyway?”
He watched her cheeks color slightly as the woman squared her shoulders. “That’s neither here nor there. Is there someplace we can sit and discuss the generous offer being made to you by Slade & Howell?”
He pursed his lips and watched her for moment. Then he nodded. “We can meet in my office.” He gestured toward the huge log home that had been in his family for generations. When he’d been a boy, his grandfather had added an extension to the north end of the house, creating an office from which to run ranch business.
“If we’re going to have a business, my boy, we’d better treat it like one,” the elder Hunter McFall had told his young namesake.
That Hunter McFall had been the first of his family to attend college, and his son and grandson had followed in his footsteps. They’d taken what had been a rough and tumble ranch and turned it into a successful cattle business, acquiring extra acreage along the way as some of their neighbors failed to keep up with the times.
P.K. Chastain, leather satchel in hand, clipped purposefully across the gravel drive and up the steps to the covered porch that ran the length of the front of the house and around the southern end. Hunter followed along behind, amused by the turn of events.
At the door, she stopped, allowing him to open it and usher her inside. Just inside the door, he paused to hang his black felt hat on a rack beside the door. His mother had always been firm: “No hats in the house.” He supposed that extended to the office as well.
Hunter imagined he could see the office from his guest’s point of view as he inhaled the familiar scent of leather and wood. Behind the huge reclaimed wood desk, antique branding irons hung in a row from an old board on the wall above a barnwood credenza. Opposite the desk were a pair of leather wingback chairs. The chairs matched twin oxblood leather chesterfield couches that flanked an antique trunk turned coffee table in the center of the room.
On the opposite end from his desk sat a long wood conference table surrounded by leather club chairs. Western art from his grandfather’s collection accented the walls and the entire space was crowned by an enormous iron chandelier hung from the peaked roof.
The lawyer glanced around appreciatively. “It’s lovely,” she murmured.
Hunter nodded. “Thank you. The original cabin is over a hundred years old, but it’s been added to over the years. My grandfather added this office extension when he took over the business over forty years ago.”
“Lovely,” she repeated. She gestured with her satchel. “Where would you like me to set up?”
He shrugged slightly. “Anywhere you’re most comfortable is fine.”
He watched as the woman’s gaze flitted all around the room before it settled on the conference table.
“That looks good,” she said, and moved in that direction, her high heels clipping against the wide plank floor.
She placed the satchel on the table and opened it, rooting around until she found what she was looking for. She handed Hunter a glossy-covered booklet, a gorgeous shot of the Boxroot Mountains gracing the front with Boxroot Mountain Resort declared in bold, rustic letters blazing across the cover.
“Please, have a seat,” she gestured to the chair at the head of the table.
Hunter suppressed a smirk at the city woman telling him where to sit in his own office. Curious to see where this was all leading, he sank into the chair and watched as she dug into the bag once again.
“If you’d like to flip through the prospectus while I get my presentation ready,” she said. “I won’t be long.” She looked up at him. “You do have wi-fi?”
He nodded. “Yes, ma’am,” he drawled. “All the way out here in the boondocks, we have wi-fi and the interwebs. Why, hell, we even have the dot com.”
She paused her movements to purse her lips at him. Then she went back to her digging, tucking a few stray red hairs behind her left ear. From her bag, she extracted a small black cube about the size of a baseball. This she set up on a small tripod on the table, then she went back to rooting around in the satchel.
Hunter tried unsuccessfully to avoid staring at the way her wispy white blouse gapped in the front every time she leaned over the bag. Ms. Chastain had stellar cleavage. That paired with the nicely rounded ass he’d appreciated outside made her an intriguing distraction from the ordinary.
He didn’t look over the prospectus. He didn’t need to. He wasn’t interested in selling. But he’d hear her out. It beat the hell out of rounding up reluctant Herefords.
“Okay.” She gave him an efficient nod. “Now that you’ve had a chance to look over the prospectus, let’s get started.” She pointed a small remote at the black cube on the tripod, and the blank wall at the end of the table lit up with the same image as the one on the booklet in his hands.
“First, let me say thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I think that by the time we’re finished here today, we’ll have come to an agreement that’s beneficial both to McFall Ranch and to Slade & Howell.”
She picked up her tablet and clicked something. The image on the wall changed to an animation of a high-end mountain resort, complete with computer-generated people moving in eerily jerky motions in front of a fancy lodge. As Hunter watched, the scene morphed through four seasons of rustic Idaho.
The lawyer spent the next twenty minutes extolling the virtues of Slade & Howell’s vision of Boxroot Mountain Resort. Between skiing in the winter and fly fishing in the summer, it would be the ultimate year-round vacation destination this side of the Mississippi River. It would bring untold revenue to the tiny town of McFall. Resort construction would benefit the existing infrastructure of the entire Deer Creek Valley area.
By the time she was finished the final slide, she was out of breath. She turned to Hunter.
“Mr. McFall, I am authorized to offer you an amazing compensation package. If you’ll turn to page 36 of the prospectus…” She stopped, waiting for him to flip through the booklet.
Reluctantly, Hunter found the page she indicated.
“I think you’ll find the offer immensely satisfying.”
Starting at the top, he skimmed down to the number on the bottom line. He felt his eyes widen before he restored his poker face. He glanced up at the woman who was watching him closely.
She smiled at him confidently. “And all of that for just the 2,000 acres we’ll need to build the access road.”
Hunter shook his head, swiping his lips with his hand. It was an obscene amount of money. But that was beside the point. He had no intention of selling any McFall land. It wasn’t about the money.
He closed the booklet and held it out to her. “It’s a generous offer. But like I wrote in my emails, the land isn’t for sale. I’m sorry you wasted your time coming all the way out here.”
She made no move to take the booklet from him. “You keep that. And take some time to consider the offer. Obviously, we don’t expect you to make up your mind right away. It’s a big decision.” She started to pack down her electronics. “I’ll be in McFall until the end of the week. At the very least, sleep on it. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have, or to clarify anything related to the offer.”
With her satchel repacked, she headed toward the door. Again, Hunter followed along, enjoying the view.
Outside, the lawyer glanced around, taking in the wide-open pastures and the green forests beyond. “This really is a beautiful place. I can see why Slade & Howell chose it for their next resort.”
Hunter nodded. “I suppose. But to me, it’s just home. And I’d like to keep it that way. An access road across my property is going in the wrong direction.”
Hands in the pockets of his Wranglers, he ambled in the direction of the barn. Ms. Chastain followed.
“But Mr. McFall, you have sixty thousand acres.” At his surprised look, she forged ahead. “It’s public record. Anyway, would 2,000 acres make such a huge difference in the grand scheme of things?”
She walked past him and turned around. “Think of what you could do with the money.” She took a step toward him, then looked down, her face twisting into a scowl. “Oh, for f– Well, shit!”
Hunter followed her gaze. Ms. Chastain’s right foot was smack in the center of a fresh cow pie.
He couldn’t stop the grin. “Yes, ma’am, that is indeed shit.”
She nodded angrily. “Yeah, that’s just hilarious. These are fucking Jimmy Choos!” Carefully, she stepped forward. Nearly half the cowpile came with her. “Shit!”
“Here, let me help you,” Hunter laughed. He squatted down and gently gripped her calf, lifting her foot much like he would a horse’s. P.K. Chastain teetered on her left foot before she rested her hand on his shoulder to stabilize herself. Hunter removed her shoe, revealing a neat pedicure in the same shade as the fingernails and the lips.
“I can clean that up for you,” he told her. He straightened up and helped her hop to a barrel sitting outside the barn. Setting down the soiled shoe, he placed his hands on her waist and gently lifted her onto the barrel. Then he retrieved the shoe. “Won’t take me a second.”
Leather satchel on her lap, the lawyer sat sheepishly on the barrel as Hunter used a rasp to scrape the offending mess from the bottom of the high heeled shoe. To finish the job, wiped it carefully with the baby wipes he used to groom the horses. When the shoe was nice and clean, he carried it back to her.
She cautiously sniffed it, and Hunter suppressed an amused smile.
“It’s a cattle ranch, Ms. Chastain. Shit happens.”
“I can see that.”
He took the shoe back from her and gently placed it on her foot before he lifted her down from the barrel.
Feet firmly on clean ground, she straightened her black skirt self-consciously.
“My apologies for my unprofessional language,” she said, cheeks coloring slightly. “It’s been a long day. It took me two planes to get from New York to Sun Valley, then it was a two-hour drive from there to McFall, plus an extra half-hour to your ranch.”
Hunter nodded. “No apologies necessary. I’ve been known to use colorful language myself.”
He walked her to the Range Rover. “Are you staying in McFall?”
She opened the car door and dropped her bag on the passenger seat. “I’m staying at the hotel downtown.”
Again, Hunter found himself suppressing a grin. The words hotel and downtown were the most generous he’d ever heard to describe the Deer Valley Motor Lodge and the one-stoplight center of McFall. He wondered if Ms. Chastain had actually seen the motel before she’d booked a room there. Not that there was any other option short of returning to Sun Valley.
From the driver’s seat, she buzzed down the window. “Again, thank you for seeing me. I’ll be here until the end of the week. You have my cell number in the prospectus. And I’ll call you in a couple of days to check in.”
He nodded. “Yes, ma’am. But I won’t be changing my mind.”
She smiled confidently. “At least consider the offer. I’ll be in touch.”HUNTER’S PRIDE by Pandora Spocks
With that, she buzzed the window back up and headed back down the long drive to the highway.
HUNTER’S PRIDE is Book 2 in the Redheads & Ranchers series, a collection of stand-alone contemporary erotic romance novels featuring strong ranchers and the sexy redheads they can’t resist.
HUNTER’S PRIDE is due out in June.
In the meantime, check out 5-STAR reviewed JENNY’S VOICE,
the first book in the Redheads & Ranchers series.