Weekend Excerpt–HUNTER’S PRIDE

A handsome rancher with a tragic past,
determined to hang on to his inheritance.
A spunky young corporate lawyer
ready to make her mark in the world.
A sinister plot against them both.

Hunter McFall is a fifth-generation Idaho cattle rancher. He’s been approached to sell a small fraction of his land to a big-city real estate developer. Something he has no intention of doing. He’s agreed to hear out the firm’s lawyer, but that’s the end of it. To his surprise, it’s just the beginning.

Red-haired Manhattan business attorney Poppy Chastain is determined to make the most of her first opportunity to show her bosses what she can do. Slade & Howell have sent her to the boondocks of Idaho to convince the hard-headed rancher to part with a tiny plot of his property. She didn’t count on the sizzling attraction between them.

Together, they find a passion they weren’t even looking for. But their love is threatened by a covert scheme to separate Hunter from his land by any means necessary. When he finds out, he’s sure Poppy has played him for a fool. Can she convince him otherwise, that what they’ve found is real?

If you love hot cowboys, sassy redheads, and steamy, romantic happily-ever-afters, you’ll love Hunter’s Pride.

Here’s a teaser from HUNTER’S PRIDE. Warning: Spoilers ahead!

A cool gust chilled Poppy as she headed back to the apartment.  Shifting a mesh shopping bag over her left shoulder, she closed the flowy beige cardigan more tightly around herself.  Her shift at Cuppa Joe’s had seemed long today, and she was tired.  The thought of resting her feet on her coffee table and watching something mindless on television was tremendously appealing.

Necessity had required a stop by the market on her way home from work.  Since her departure from Slade & Howell, she’d put herself on a strict budget.  The bunch of sunflowers in her bag alongside a few grocery items was an extravagant treat.

She crossed at the corner with a dozen other pedestrians, each preoccupied with his or her own thoughts.  In her own mind, she pictured the steps of her first-floor walk-up.  “Thank God it’s the first floor,” she muttered to herself.

Halfway down the block, she gazed up toward her brownstone apartment building and saw a familiar figure standing on the stoop.  As she approached, he removed his black felt Stetson.

“Poppy.”  His voice was soft, and his eyes seemed to plead with her, although for what, she couldn’t say.

“Hunter?”  She pulled her sweater protectively around herself.

“I just…”  He twisted his hat in his hands.  “I need to talk to you.  I need to apologize.”

Rattled to her core, she tried not to show it.  “Let’s go inside.  I don’t need the neighborhood knowing my business.”

Moving past him, she unlocked the front door and pushed her way inside, leaving it up to Hunter to follow.  She stopped at her apartment door and closed her eyes, willing her pulse to slow down.

Across the hall, a brown face in a hot pink turban peered out his door.  “Everything okay, lovely?” Roxy asked, giving Hunter the stink eye.

Poppy forced a smile and nodded.  “Yeah, it’s good.”

Roxy arched an eyebrow and scanned Hunter from head to toe.  “Well, you just let me know,” he said.  “Not sure how I feel about cowboys just showing up out of the blue.  Where are gentlemen with manners, that’s what I’d like to know.”

He turned back to Poppy.  “You need anything, you just holla, girl.”

“Thanks, Roxy.  We’ll be fine.”

“Mm-hmm, well he sure is fine, and that’s the God’s truth,” he murmured, half to himself.  “Wouldn’t mind climbing that tree myself sometime.”  With another glance in Hunter’s direction, he winked at Poppy and closed his door.

With a shaky hand, she unlocked her door and went inside.  Again, Hunter followed.  While he closed the door, she set the mesh shopping bag on the kitchen counter and shrugged slightly.  “Sorry.  My neighbor is kind of protective.”

Standing just inside the door, he nodded, still twisting his hat.  “We met earlier.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, have a seat,” she said, gesturing to a stool at the kitchen bar.  To have something to do, she rummaged beneath the sink and found a tall square glass vase, which she filled with water.

“What are you doing all the way in New York?”  She focused on the vase, afraid to look at him, but she watched him shrug out of the corner of her eye.

“Like I said, I want to apologize.”

“For what?”  Her tone was flippant, even to her own ears.  From a drawer, she withdrew a pair of heavy shears and lopped off the ends of the sunflower stems.

He sighed heavily and pushed up from the counter.  “Poppy, could you just listen to me for a minute?”

She plunked the flowers into the vase and faced him, pulling her sweater closed and leaning back against the kitchen counter.  Even with the hat resting on the counter, he continued to fidget with it.  She’d never wanted to whip something out the window more in her life.

He shifted his jaw tightly.  “I’m so sorry, Poppy.  I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.  I should have listened to you.”  He scowled, running a hand restlessly across his lips.  “I should have known.”

Pursing her lips, she nodded.  “I suppose.  But then, you didn’t really know me at all, did you?”  She echoed his words, the ones he’d hurled at her before he’d ordered her away.  “I mean, after all, we knew each other for what, a week?” 

He blinked at her words, and she knew they’d hit their mark.  Unable to take him full-force, Poppy turned her back and busied herself arranging the flowers.  “Does anybody ever really know anybody?”

Hunter didn’t reply, but she heard his steady breathing.

Unable to stand the silence, she gave an exasperated sigh.  “You know I lost my job, right?  I’ve been looking for a new one since I got back to the city.  And in the meantime, I’m waiting tables at a coffee place a few blocks from here.  All I can do right now is try to keep my head above water.  Tiny as this place is, it’s not cheap.”

He sank back down onto the stool.  “You lost your job at Slade and Howell?”

Poppy rolled her eyes.  “I suppose technically, I quit.  After I told them to go fuck themselves, I couldn’t exactly work there anymore.”  She risked a glance his way.

A glimmer of humor shone in his eyes.  “You told them to go fuck themselves?”

“After what they tried to do to you?  After they used me to do it?  What do you think?”

“How did the settlement come about?  How did they decide to give me that mountain property?  Did you have something to do with that?”

She exhaled sharply.  “I was waiting for them to call my flight at the gate in Sun Valley, and I started scrolling through my photos.”  She cut her eyes toward him.  “Don’t ask me why, because I was pissed as hell.  Anyway, I saw something in a few of the pictures I took the day we went riding in the mountains.”

“Ground squirrels,” Hunter nodded.

“Which, as it turns out, Slade & Howell knew about.  I had a friend of mine at the firm dig up the emails.”  She gave a satisfied nod. 

“Believe me, they were happier to settle by giving you the land than they were to go to trial and have to explain why they conspired to proceed with a project that they knew would destroy the known habitat of an endangered species.  And as it turns out, that was just the tip of the iceberg.”

She looked at Hunter.  “I figured that if the land went to you, you would ensure that it was never developed.  Kind of a win-win.  Even Slade & Howell wins.  The insurance money made sure they could just build their resort someplace else.”

You didn’t win,” he observed.

Heart pounding, she shrugged but said nothing.

He shook his head.  “I should have trusted you.  I’ve never been more wrong about anything in my life.”

Again, he stood.  “Please forgive me, Poppy.  Even if you don’t love me anymore. Even if you’ve found someone else.   I can’t go back to Idaho until I know that we’re okay.” 

She couldn’t miss the anguish in his eyes.  Focusing on the flowers was an exercise in self-preservation. 

 “And there’s more to it than that.  I came to do more than just apologize.”  He pushed back from the kitchen counter bar and stood, his head nearly touching the underside of her loft bedroom.  “I want to tell you that I love you.  Since you left Idaho, I’ve been a miserable son of a bitch.”

He shook his head miserably.  “I know we only knew each other for a week.  But damn it, sometimes a week is enough.” 

She heard him take a step closer.  His voice was softer.  “I love you, Poppy.  And I know you love me.  Or at least you did.  Before I let my ego make an ass of me.”

She squeezed her eyes shut against the emotions that swept over her.  Steeling herself, she turned to face him.  “What am I supposed to do with that?”  Her tone was biting.

His eyes widened, and he looked like she’d punched him in the gut.  “I just…wanted to tell you.”

“Words, Hunter.  Just…words.”  Thinking of all she’d been through in the last several months, she shook her head.  “Maybe in the movies that makes everything okay.  But this is real life.”

Her heart pounded in her chest.  I have to do it.  He deserves to know

“You mentioned that I didn’t win.  Well, I didn’t exactly walk away empty-handed.”

Feeling like she was in a warped dream, she opened the oatmeal-colored cardigan and slipped it off.  She’d recently had to give up her favorite Levis in favor of maternity jeans with a wide stretchy waist. 

Hunter’s jaw went slack as he took in the four-month baby bump just noticeable beneath her long white three-quarter-sleeve t-shirt.

“How did…  When did…”  Looking gut-punched, he sank back onto his stool.

Crossing her arms defensively, she shrugged lightly.  “I like to think it was that first time, the night we were stranded in the cabin on the mountain.  Although it could have been any of the other times, too.”

He frowned slightly, and she launched herself toward him, planting her palms on the counter.  “If you dare question whether it’s yours, I’ll slap the face right off the front of your head.  You’ll be looking up at yourself from the ground.” 

Hunter said nothing, but his eyes glinted with amusement.

Softening a bit, she opened a drawer and produced a paper strip of ultrasound images, sliding it across the counter.  “It’s a boy, by the way.”

Motionless, he blinked in shock, all amusement gone.  Wordlessly, he stared at the grainy black and white images.  “Were you going to tell me?” he finally asked softly.

“I don’t know,” she huffed.  “I mean, if I tell you, then you feel some kind of responsibility, right?” 

She eyed him sharply.  “Think about it.  When I lost my job, I lost my insurance.  To save money, I’m seeing a midwife for prenatal care and crossing my fingers I can deliver at home.  I’m counting every penny, and let me tell you, I would fucking kill somebody right now for some deep-dish pizza from Pronti’s.”

HUNTER’S PRIDE by Pandora Spocks

HUNTER’S PRIDE is available
at your favorite online bookseller.
books2read.com/HuntersPride

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