Both seek retribution, neither is looking for love.
Ochessa is heartbroken when she finds her brother fatally wounded. His dying words are about a childhood puzzle box, missing legal documents, and a drifter named Nicodemus Breedlove. Ochessa vows to find Will’s murderer—and the man Will described.
No stranger to trouble, Nic’s only concerns are his Stetson, his mule Sadie, and a long awaited chance at retribution. After gaining Ochessa’s trust, and taking the job she offers, life gets more complicated.
Back on the ranch in Colorado, Ochessa works as hard as any man. Then Nick tempts her into playing even harder as a woman—both are overwhelmed by their growing love for one another.
Weathering a stampede, a gully washer, and a pack of outlaws, they locate the killer. As Nic’s quest for justice, and Ochessa’s vendetta for Will play out, bullets fly…
Not everybody’s gonna make it out alive.
“I’ve come for the job,” Nic said.
Ochessa hesitated only a moment. “I don’t need any more ranch hands.”
“Not a job, the job.” Nic retrieved the bounty poster from inside his shirt, leaned forward, and held it up in front of her face.
Of course. Naturally he would be offering a gun for hire, not a strong back for bending.
Re-folding the paper, he tucked it away in his back pocket. Several similar fliers were poking out of his saddlebag. He must have collected all the ones she tacked up in town.
“It doesn’t say anything about expenses,” he continued.
“That’s because I don’t intend to pay any.”
“That should narrow down the applicants considerably.” His gaze settled on her lips. “Or are you planning to offer incentive of a more personal nature?”
“Listen, Breedlove. Don’t get your hopes up—or anything else. Whoever I hire can live and eat at the ranch for free. And they can stay at Will’s cabin if the search takes them back to Kansas.”
He seemed disappointed. She didn’t care, or at least she shouldn’t care. What this man thought held no consequence for her. Being a drifter, he would most likely ride out of her life as quickly and unexpectedly as he’d galloped into it.
“Well…” Nic urged the mule one step closer.
“Do I get the job or not?”
Naked to the waist, and bent over the horse trough, his sculpted muscles standing out in sharp relief, Nic scooped handfuls of water over his head. A growl escaped him as he straightened to his full height, and slicked back the dripping mane of dark hair. Arms still raised, he met her gaze, as the excess water trickled happily across his bare chest.
Involuntarily she sucked in a deep breath. The distance between them felt charged with lightning, thunder pounding in her brain, leaving the rest of the world dead silent.
A look of surprise flickered across Nic’s face. His muscles flexed and bulged as he lowered his arms to his sides.
“Good evening, boss.” He emphasized the last word as if were a personal joke.
She swallowed hard, and fought to find her voice. “Time’s a wasting, Breedlove. Why are you still hanging around the ranch? Shouldn’t you be out earning your keep?”
“Well, we all have our own way of doing things, and my way is usually different from the norm.”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me?”
Retrieving his hat, he carefully dislodged a thistle from the battered brim then settled the coveted headgear upon his head. “What would surprise you, Ochessa?” He studied her with an expression that sizzled and danced through her like water on a hot griddle.
“Not seeing you every time I turn around would be a good start.”
“You’re not very good at lying.”
She nudged a dried up cow pie with the toe of her boot. “Maybe not. But I am good at recognizing a load of bull when it comes my way.”
He gave a deep chuckle, and reached for the shirt dangling from the water pump. “Sounds like you’ve been on both ends of the shovel.”
“No more than anyone else, I guess.”
He stood his ground, casually shucking into the article of clothing, his movements so sure, no wasted motion, no hesitation. Did he live his life the same? Taking what he wanted when and where he found it? She imagined him wanting her, taking her, and as his gaze slid down the front of her body, memories of their stolen passion again flared hot in the pit of her stomach.
His eyes brightened as if the same thoughts held him transfixed. Then his expression hardened, and the gleam in his eyes turned to flint. “I should have some information for you soon. I’ll be out of your way come morning.”
The fluttering in her belly turned to a panic. His leaving disturbed her more than running into him at every turn. Yet, it was what she wanted, wasn’t it? Confusion had her at a loss as to how to respond or how to proceed. It felt as if she’d captured a wild creature, and now before ever knowing what made him so intriguing, so unique, she had to set him free.
His mouth softened into a mocking smile. “I’ll be back in a day or two. I’m only going to Denver.”
Apparently her face was an open book, and now she felt the fool. “Don’t hurry on my account. I was only worried Lucky might miss you.”
“I hope you’re not expecting a letter of recommendation. To date I haven’t been terribly
satisfied with your performance.”
He stepped closer. “Where I come from animals perform not men. And I didn’t realize satisfying you was part of my job description.”
If ever a man could satisfy her, Nic would be the one.
“An employer always expects satisfaction. Too bad we’ll never know if you were up to the task.” Her words had come out more of a challenge than the reprimand she intended.
The crooked smile for which she’d been waiting, slipped into place. “We could still find out. I’m generally not the kind of man to leave a job half done.”
“But I’m no longer your boss, and you’re not the hired help.”
“I’m still a man, and you’re still a woman. Do you like being a woman Ochessa?”
What kind of question was that? Did he think because she managed a ranch and knew how to handle a gun she lacked feelings? Beneath the leather beat a soft heart, too soft, she reminded herself.
“Like it or not,” he pressed, “you’re very good at it—without even trying. Perhaps that’s what makes you so dangerous.”
He uttered the last few words as if speaking to himself, and she wondered how she could possibly pose a threat to a man like Nic.
Pausing on the boardwalk, he captured one of her hands and held her back. “You still owe me a kiss.”
She snatched her hand away. “I don’t owe you anything. You owe me. I saved you from bleeding to death.”
“How do you figure that? I wouldn’t have been shot in the first place if you hadn’t lured me to that back alley and then needed me to save your hide from the dark horseman crouching at your back.”
“All right so we’re even. It’s not a contest.”
“Then what is it, Ochessa, this thing between us?”
She knew exactly what he meant but refused to answer. Something definitely existed between them—something akin to the hum in the air just before a lightning strike.
He adjusted his worse-for-wear hat, settling it more firmly upon his head. The motion seemed one of habit, and she stared at his hand remembering his touch uponher body, and the way he had coaxed her beyond feigned interest headfirst into wholehearted
“There’s nothing between us.”
Lightly gripping the lapels of her jacket, he walked backward, tugging her along and into a sheltered nook beside the restaurant.
Her gaze slammed into his. Even in the dim light of seclusion, his eyes shone brightly. They were deep, like bottomless pools, and she wanted to tumble headfirst
into them, not caring she might drown in their depths.
Nic lowered his mouth to hers, and raw need kicked at her midsection and plunged downward. Abruptly he pulled away. “Is that nothing?”
“Yes.” She lied again, wanting more, and resenting him because of the way she felt.
He gave a snort of laughter and released his hold on her jacket.
Hands levered against his chest, she pushed away from him. Then turning, she ran as if her life depended upon it—and maybe it did. Collecting the reins of her mare, she vaulted into the saddle.
Nic followed and grabbed the bridle just as Lame Bear had done, but she didn’t wait to see what he wanted. The leather strap jerked free of his grasp when she turned the horse toward the street and urged her into a run.
“Good bye, Mr. Breedlove,” she called over her shoulder. “Have a nice life.”
Nic watched Ochessa tear down the street.
Her hat slipped back, saved from complete loss by her stampede strap, and her tawny hair turned into streamers of gold as the moonlight shown down on her.
Even after the rest of her image disappeared into the darkness, for a moment, he saw flashes of those unruly locks.
Waiting long enough to be sure no one followed her out of town, he finally turned away. She did a good job of pretending to be a tough little gal. But he hadn’t missed the trembling of her chin when she spoke of her brother. She hadn’t broken down, though, hadn’t given in to the grief he knew must be crushing in on her. Chessy Cat…the softest, sweetest, wildwood feline he’d ever had the pleasure with which to tangle.
With a shake of his head, he retraced his steps along the walkway. What an almighty fool. He sounded like a schoolboy. But if simply kissing her aroused him this much, what would it be like to lie next to her, to share her heat, to lose himself in the depths of her
body? Probably an idea better left unexplored or even admitted to.