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I hope someday to write more cowboy stories set around the Palo Duro Canyon. If you’ve never been, it’s the second largest canyon in the U.S., and you can’t miss an amazing good time—cowboys and one big natural phenomenon.
Mustang Man by Vonna Harper
Acclaimed horse trainer Miguel Perez is used to the unexpected from his work with wild mustangs. But nothing prepares him for the bolt of desire he feels when he meets Dawn Glass, as he’s eager to work his sexual healing on her in every possible way.
Long Hard Ride by Melissa MacNeal
Rodeo rider Michael White House is grateful when Diana Grant stops to pick him up in the middle of a rainstorm. But with one touch his gratitude quickly turns to lust and an uncontrollable desire to lay her down and ride her hard all night long. “Hot Blooded” – Rancher Adam Youngblood is always happy to help a damsel in distress. But before he’ll pull the sweetly curvaceous and fiercely independent Cass McIntyre to safety, he demands promises of unconditional sexual surrender.
Hot Blooded by Delilah Devlin
Rancher Adam Youngblood is always happy to help a damsel in distress. But before he’ll pull the sweetly curvaceous and fiercely independent Cass McIntyre to safety, he demands promises of unconditional sexual surrender…
When the first small drops began to fall, Cass McIntyre welcomed the light shower the forecasters had predicted. Already halfway up the route she’d chosen, she’d worked up a nice sweat.
The rain quickly cooled her skin, which was caked in a thick, itchy layer of canyon dirt and chalk. The lazy breeze accompanying the rain fanned the burning cuts on her bare legs and arms, giving her a mental boost of energy.
After another fifteen feet into her ascent—chilled and achy now and getting a little impatient with the worsening conditions—she found a narrow ledge. She unhooked her biner from the rope, and decided to wait out the cloudburst, a rare occurrence in the Panhandle and extremely deadly because the rock face she climbed had become as slippery as mud.
She took small comfort in the phrase she’d heard over and over since she’d first moved to Canyon, Texas that ran like a mantra through her head. If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.
Her mistake had been believing that piece of homespun advice.
Not that she was anything more than mildly annoyed at this point. The awe-inspiring view from her perch above the canyon floor placated her restless nature and soothed the deep ache in her chest that had choked her at the start of the climb.
Low-hanging clouds obscured the sunlight and provided an unexpected cooling to a hot spring day. Soft, gray mist filled the Palo Duro Canyon, softening the light and air, the moisture causing a burst of brilliant color to erupt from the fading wildflowers carpeting the rough terrain—bright orange from Mexican hat and Indian blanket, and a cheery yellow daisy-like flower whose name escaped her at the moment.
Determined to salvage some enjoyment from her adventure, she settled on the ledge, dangling her legs over the side, and ignored the water soaking through her thin tee and shorts.
Half an hour into the storm that had grown steadily more insistent, she kissed off making the summit and planned a quick rappel to the distant hollow below.
However, as she unwound her long rope from the straps of her backpack for a hasty descent, her narrow perch disintegrated. Rock made fragile by the water splintered into rough shards and gravel that tumbled down the sheer precipice.
Cass dropped the rope and jammed her hand into a crevice in the rock to anchor herself while she reached beside her for her pack. But she was too late.
More of the ledge crumbled. The backpack slid away, leaving her stranded with only the shorter rope she’d used between cams—not nearly long enough to attempt a descent.
“Jesus. I don’t fucking believe this,” she whispered furiously.
Pissed off with her rookie mistake, she pulled the trigger on the cam she’d used to secure her rope above the ledge and wedged it deeper into the crevice. She attached one end of her short rope to the cam and tied the other to the belay. Then satisfied she’d done everything she could to remain safe, she settled again on the last little remnant of her eroding perch.
She’d have to wait for rescue—something she’d never live down. A frequent climber who often provided advice to weekend enthusiasts, she could already hear the razzing she’d get from her fellow park rangers.
She only hoped the team sent to retrieve her wouldn’t include the one man she’d come to escape. She could only imagine the black, judgmental glare he’d give her for inconveniencing him. Add this fiasco to last night’s and she figured he’d just as soon let her rot on the side of the cliff as drop her a rope.
With nothing left to do to keep her mind from obsessing over mistakes she couldn’t undo, Cass sat on the narrow ledge high above the canyon floor with her head bent against the rain, watching it fall like the tears she refused to weep.
Frustration fueled her emotions—not fear or loneliness— she ruthlessly insisted to herself. Cass never cried, and she sure as hell wasn’t starting now. She’d gotten herself into this mess. She’d just have to figure a way out.
However, the only plans she could come up with required a little patience and a lot of humility–qualities she didn’t possess in abundance. With nothing to do but hunker down and wait, she finally let her mind wander back to what had brought her to this moment.
The ascent of Fortress Cliff was supposed to be a way to blow off steam after a stressful week and even more horrendous night. Stress of a sort she hadn’t anticipated when she’d flipped her career with the state police months ago and entered the park service.
Who’d have thought a job patrolling a bit of paradise on earth could put kinks in her neck that only a climb up a rock wall could unknot?
Patrolling campgrounds in the late afternoon and evening to ticket park visitors who made illegal fires, arrest underage drinkers, or search for hikers who’d lost their way on the trails was everything the superintendent had promised.
Fielding complaints from one intensely sexy rancher with an uncanny ability to find her when she did her best to evade him had been an unexpected test. One she’d failed miserably.
Thunder rumbled through the darkening clouds, pulling her back to her present predicament. She couldn’t wait out the storm. Her situation was becoming more precarious by the second. She’d have to hope Mavis let the rescue personnel dispatched from the Canyon Volunteer Fire Department know she hadn’t checked back in at the park’s headquarters. Since rescue would have to come from the top of the escarpment, she needed to give them a sign to help them find her quickly.
Closing her eyes, she cursed softly to herself. She’d have to add one more humiliation to the day—this one a deliberate choice. She eased her arms inside her t-shirt, clumsily removed her bra, pulled it from under her shirt, and thrust her arms back through her sleeves.
Then leaning as far from the rock wall as her harness would allow, she drew back her arm and let the bra fly toward the branches of a juniper tree hugging the edge of the cliff.
* * *
Sunlight broke through the clouds by mid-afternoon. Although the rain had stopped an hour before, chaos still reigned in the park as the rivers continued to rise. All the low water crossings were impassible. Climbers and hikers all along the trails had been stranded. When the Canyon Volunteer Fire Department called the ranch, Adam Youngblood bit back a curse.
The last place he wanted to be today was anywhere near the park and one particular little park ranger. But he headed straight for the headquarters building near the entrance of the park where the rangers had organized search parties to rescue stranded campers and hikers.
Mavis Benson who manned the information desk sidled close to him with a clipboard in her hands. “Adam,” she said hesitantly.
“What do you need, sweetheart?”
“We have a situation.”
He glanced at the organized chaos around him and nodded his head. “We certainly do.”
She pulled at his shirtsleeve and tilted her clipboard toward him. “Cass—Fortress Cliff—0800” was scribbled in purple ink. “She hasn’t checked back in.”
Adam didn’t want to care. In fact, he hated the way his belly knotted at that piece of news. “Have you sent anyone to check it out?”
“They’re still assigning teams to sections of the park. Thought you might like to take this one yourself,” she whispered, her eyebrows rising.
Adam grimaced, tempted to tell her flat out she had the wrong man for the job. She didn’t know his interest in Cass McIntyre had been obliterated the night before.
However, he didn’t want to tarnish the trust and respect shining in Mavis’s eyes whenever he entered the building. Mavis was a lifelong resident of the nearby town of Canyon and attended the same church his mother had.
Adam blew out a deep breath and nodded. “I’ll take a look around the cliff.”
She beamed and handed him the note. “If she’s not in any trouble, she’s not gonna be happy I sent someone out to check on her.”
“Woman’s too independent for her own good,” he muttered, settling his cowboy hat on his head.
“It’s what happens when a woman fends too long for herself,” she said with a firm nod. And she should know. The elderly spinster had lived alone for as long as he he’d known her, which was all his life.
Forty-five minutes later after getting his wheels bogged down in mud twice, he made it to the summit and drove slowly along the rim of the bluff. Just as he’d decided he’d have to park and continue the search on foot, a scrap of white gleaming against the dark green branches of a juniper tree caught his eye.
The closer he drew, the item took shape—two distinctive shapes. He his brakes, put the truck in park, and cut the engine.
Adam almost smiled at the thought of Cass resorting to flashing her underwear. But his amusement lasted only a second because he realized things must be grim if she’d signaled for help.
He picked up his radio from the seat beside him and called in his location before stepping out of his vehicle making his way to the cliff’s edge to peer over the side.
His heart skipped a beat when he spotted the top of a blonde head, hair pulled into a tight ponytail. Cass sat on a narrow outcropping of rock with her back against the wall and her slim legs dangling in the air.
He drew a deep breath to calm his heart, then satisfied she wasn’t in any imminent danger, he scanned the eroded ledge, the last twenty or so feet of rock to the cliff’s edge, and the thick trunk of the tree clinging to that edge.
His boot crunched in grit as he leaned farther over the rim, sending a spray of pea-sized gravel downward. “Watch out, below,” he called.
Cass jerked her head back, and then turned her face upward. A scowl darkened her features. “Damn. Didn’t think my bad luck could get any worse.”
“Yeah, well I’m all you’ve got. Sit tight until I get back.”
“Like I’m going anywhere?”
Adam shook his head. The woman didn’t possess a lick of sense bitching with her rescuer. Hell, she had no business climbing on her own in the first place—or hopping into his brother’s arms.
He squelched that last thought. No use getting riled up again when he had work to do. If she fell, everyone would think he’d dropped her on purpose.
He backed his vehicle up to a spot directly above her position and grabbed a rope, tied it around his trailer hitch, and then fed the coil through his hand, grasping the prusik knot as he approached the edge again.
Bracing his feet against an exposed root of the juniper tree, he wound the rope around the trunk then lowered the end toward her.
Cass reached up for the rope he dangled above her. “Give me some more.”
Adam gave her another few inches, but as she raised her hand to grab it, he pulled it up just out of reach.
Her head tilted until her green gaze met his.
Adam felt a fierce satisfaction that he had her undivided attention.
Her slender brows drew together in a frown. Her lips pouted. “This is not the time to play games with me, Adam. Get me off this goddamn ledge.”
“I’d think a woman in your position would be grateful for a little help, not cussin’ at it.”
Thunder clapped from the southern rim of the canyon drawing both their gazes.
“We don’t have time for this,” Cass called out. “Send down that rope.”
She was right, but something twisted inside Adam. Seeing her so vulnerable sent an edgy thrill through his body. “Say you’re sorry, first.”
Her head tilted again. This time confusion and maybe a hint of regret darkened her gaze. “For what? Getting stuck here? Am I inconveniencing you?”
She faced the canyon again, and her shoulders slumped. “You didn’t want to hear any excuses last night. Why should I think you want to hear an apology from me now?”
“Maybe I’m just curious to see if you know how.”
The wind whipped up, tearing at the brim of his hat. They really didn’t have time for this.
“I’m sorry,” she called out, her tone defiant. “Did you hear me?”
“Yeah, but I’m not feeling it.”
“Look, get me off this rock. Then take your pound of flesh.”
“Any way I want it?”
There was a long pause, and she peered up again, her scowl screwing up her features. “Any way you want it,” she gritted out.
Adam felt a grim smile stretch his lips. Too bad he didn’t have any intention of acting on her promise. Taking out his anger on her body would make for a sweet revenge.
He dropped the coiled rope again, letting the end dangle in front of her, then fed her more as she tugged it down to attach to her harness. “You’re going to have to climb, but I’ll take up the slack.”
He backed away from the cliff’s edge and grasped the rope in front of the tree. Then he pulled until he felt tension on the line, taking up the slack as Cass made her way slowly up the side, not letting up until she hauled herself over the edge and collapsed face first in the mud.
Adam dropped the rope and strode over to her, leaning down to hold out his hand. Her head raised, mud on her chin and one cheek, her gaze going to his face then dropping to his hand.
She wiped her own against her shorts, and then slid her fingers along his palm, accepting his tug as he hauled her to her feet.
They stood chest-to-chest, and then she wobbled. Adam clutched her waist and drew her closer, widening his stance so he could feel her taut belly press against his groin.
His cock stirred, something he couldn’t hide when there wasn’t an inch of space between them.
Just as she couldn’t hide the twin points stabbing at his chest.
Her head bowed, but slowly her hands glided up his arms to clutch his shoulders. “This going to be your pound?” she asked, her voice softly muffled.
“I’m still thinking on what I want in trade,” he said, forcing his to remain even, his tone cold.
She lifted her head, her chin tilting upward in defiance. “What if I don’t like what you come up with? I agreed to your bargain under duress. It doesn’t count.”
Adam narrowed his gaze. “We’re a long way from civilization. Not too smart, saying things like that to me when I’m still mad as hell.”
Her lips twisted. “What’s the matter? Didn’t like my apology?”
“It was only a start. Next time, I want you to mean it.”
She snorted. “This is ridiculous. I’m through being sorry. Through trying to talk to you like you’re a reasonable man. I’ve been sitting on that ledge for a fucking hour. I’m dirty, hungry and getting grumpier by the minute. I don’t want to do this now.”
“I don’t want to do this—ever,” he growled, pushing her away.
Her eyes closed, a momentary flash of pain tightening her lips.
Good. He’d scored a hit. She damn well deserved it.
“Get in the truck. I’ll take you home.”
The drive to her place was made in silence thick with tension. He kept his gaze glued to the road before him; she sat with her shoulders angled away to stare out the passenger window.
When he pulled into her drive, she unhooked her seatbelt, and then hesitated.
Adam braced himself, gripping the steering wheel hard.
“It could have been you, you know,” she whispered fiercely, “but we’ve been going in circles for a month now and you never even came close to asking me out. I’m not a nun, Adam.”
“You made your choice.”
“It was just a goddamn kiss.”
“And that makes it all right? Get out, Cass.”
She opened her mouth again, but he turned to aim an angry glare her way.
Her eyes blinked once, and she clamped her lips closed. The door slammed opened with an angry jerk that rattled the cab. Shoulders straight, she stomped all the way to her front door.
Adam put the truck into reverse, gunned the engine, spinning the tires in a short, sharp squeal, and then peeled out.
Did she really expect him to forget he’d seen her make out with his brother? That he’d be willing to pick up where they left off? He told himself he was glad, even relieved, he’d never made love to her. Their constant sparring had been fueled by his annoyance and her stubborn, prickly pride—never by lust. His brother was welcome to her.
Still, he couldn’t quite push aside the feeling that had gripped him when he’d peered over the edge of the steep cliff and found her sitting there, waiting for rescue–vulnerable and alone.
Deep, twisted satisfaction had flared hot inside him.
He’d liked having her at his mercy.