MONTANA BOUNTY HUNTERS: Authentic Men… Real Adventures…
The haunted gaze of one wounded warrior sparks a challenge in a physical therapist who’s determined to help him regain what he’s lost whether he wants her help or not…
Physical Therapist, Raydeen Pickering, has seen her fill of stubborn veterans, some too angry to get on with their lives, some still living in hell in their minds, and then some unwilling to let their broken bodies hold them back. She hasn’t figured out which Brian Cobb is yet. The first time she met the handsome, wounded warrior, he was wary and defensive, his gaze always sliding toward the door, looking for as a quick escape from the Soldiers’ Sanctuary meetings.
Even now, there’s something about the ex-Army MP, now bounty hunter wrangler, that sets him apart from the other men she’s helped mend. There’s something more–not just the haunted look in his eyes or the stubborn set of his chin. The way he looks at her when he thinks her attention is elsewhere gives her hope that she’ll reach him, and that he’ll let her help him regain more of what he’s lost.
First though, he has to figure out he’s in love with the wrong woman. The one he needs is right here, and if she has to do the chasing, so be it, because those looks he gives her have rekindled a fire she thought was lost forever…
Read an Excerpt
Sweat trickled down the sides of Brian Cobb’s face. His helmet felt heavy on his head, his pack dragged on his shoulders, and his boots were so hot he was walking in pools of water. The transport vehicles his squad had been promised hadn’t arrived, so they were hoofing it back to camp with half a dozen prisoners chained in a line. Still, their plight was better than the infantry platoon’s they’d left a click back. Once they’d given the ISIS fighters into Military Police custody, they’d headed back to continue their sweep for insurgents hiding inside the village with the unpronounceable name.
“Hey, Corncob,” Private First Class Benny Sanders said as he walked beside him.
“You know I hate that nickname, Sanders,” Brian muttered.
“Yeah, I do,” he said, his smile stretching across his dark face. Benny jerked his chin toward the slender figure striding ahead of the chained prisoners, her dog Tessa walking, unleashed by her side. “I see how you look at her. Are you and she…?”
Brian gave Benny a glare. “No. We’re just friends.”
“She have a boyfriend back in the States or something?”
“No, not that it’s any of your business.”
“Huh. Just thought since you two spend so much time together…”
Brian shook his head. “We’re friends. We hang. That’s all.” Not that he would mind if their friendship grew into something more. He’d had a thing for Jamie Burke since they’d met during their first drill together back in Kalispell, what felt like eons ago. Jamie was certainly easy on the eyes with her wheat-blonde hair, lightly tanned skin, and golden-brown eyes.
However much he might have wished it, Jamie had assigned him to the “friend zone”—and because he valued their friendship, he’d never acted upon his attraction. Perhaps once they were back Stateside, he’d work up the courage to ask her out.
He’d played a multitude of scenarios in his mind of how he’d go about doing it without blowing their friendship to hell should she shoot him down. Not one of them felt like the right fit. Sure, they had lots in common—they loved playing basketball and soccer, liked working out, liked animals, were both from western Montana…
Well, maybe they didn’t have that much in common, but they could certainly build on what they shared now. Maybe he needed to figure out what she liked to do outside of the military, what her hobbies were, whether she liked to dance.
He liked to dance. He could imagine asking her out for a beer, just buddies going for a drink together. The music would start up, and he’d hike an eyebrow. She’d give a laugh and say something like, “If you don’t mind me stepping all over your toes,” and he’d lead her to the floor. Once he held her in his arms, maybe then she’d see him as someone she could consider as dating material…
Ahead, Tessa gave a whine and moved away from Jamie, her nose going to the ground as she searched the trail they walked, one side then the other.
They’d left the village and were following a well-traveled trail that led through rocky hills. The area had been cleared of enemy combatants, so they’d been ordered to march the prisoners back. Still, the danger didn’t have to come from a sniper on a hilltop.
Jamie held up her closed fist, and the squad drew to a halt. Brian looked to his left. “Benny, keep an eye out,” he said, indicating the hills behind them.
The squad leader, Sergeant Milligan, strode up to Jamie. “What’s the holdup, Burke?”
“Don’t know yet, Sarge,” she said. “Tessa hasn’t indicated yet.”
Tessa moved ahead of the formation but lifted her nose from the trail and ran back to Jamie, her tail wagging.
Tessa reached down to give her a pat. “Must have had a whiff of something, but I think we’re cool to move on.”
However, Tessa gave another whine and sniffed the air. A moment later, she left Jamie’s side again, this time heading down the row of prisoners toward Brian, her nose to the ground, sniffing the trail then moving slightly off it to Brian’s right. She whined and moved closer to Brian.
Brian glanced around him. Tessa was a trained bomb dog. An IED might be nearby. But where? The rocky outcropping beside him caught his eye.
“Cobb!” Benny whispered.
He turned to glance at Benny, whose eyes were large. He tilted his head toward a hillside in the distance. Brian didn’t glance at it directly. “You see something?”
“A glint. Then some movement. Might be one Tango.”
Brian had a bad feeling. “Jamie, call your dog back,” he said, keeping his voice natural, “I think we’ve got company.”
Sergeant Milligan began moving his way. Brian smiled and shook his head, trying to act like his heart wasn’t racing and his stomach hadn’t dropped to his boots. “Better keep back, Sarge,” he said, keeping his tone carefree. “I think there’s an IED in the rocks beside me, and Benny spotted movement at your three o’clock.”
The sergeant’s gaze betrayed his concern. “We have his buddies chained in a line. Maybe he actually gives a shit about them. How about you move forward, Cobb? Sanders,” he said, calling out to Benny, giving them both a strained smile. “You move, too. Get his friends between you and him. But move slow and natural. Don’t let him know we know he’s there.”
Although every one of the squad members was aware of the threat, they began to patter.
“Man, I can’t wait to get back to my bunk. Mama sent brownies. Got a few left.”
“No, you don’t, Packer. I snuck the last one when you were showering.”
“Shithead, you better not have.”
“Hey, Tessa,” Jamie called to her dog, indicating with a finger toward the ground that Tessa should move back to her side.
The dog ran back, turned in a neat circle, and sat beside her feet. Jamie’s gaze went to Brian. Her eyes were wide with fear, and her gaze shifted toward the rocks as she said, “Brian, you and I have a rematch to play against Pike and Sherman. Better hurry your ass up.”
Brian gave her a crooked grin, took a deep breath, and stepped out.
A shot sounded, and Benny dropped to his knees, his head sagging toward his chest.
Brian took another step, but sound exploded then went suddenly muffled. He felt something hammer against his lower body, felt searing pain, then he was flying, everything moving in slow motion, clumps of dirt and flares of fire, tumbling head over heels until he dropped with a sickening thud on the trail.
He couldn’t hear voices, but he saw movement—Sergeant Milligan pointing toward the hill and signaling for two men to move out and engage with the sniper; Pike kneeling beside Benny, who still knelt on his knees, blood gurgling from his chest.
Jamie’s face entered his vision. Tears filled her eyes.
“I’m okay,” he shouted, then pointed at his ears. “Can’t hear though. And I’m feelin’ a little…dizzy.” Okay, a lot, but he didn’t want to worry her.
Sergeant Milligan knelt beside Jamie, talking into his radio. Someone else moved to the opposite side of him…Kinsey, the medic. His back was to Brian as he leaned over his body.
Brian tried to get up on his elbows to tell him the problem wasn’t with his legs; it was with his head. He couldn’t hear, but then he glanced downward, past Kinsey.
His boots were gone. Then he realized…so were the feet that had been sweating inside them.
He drew a deep breath and glanced up at Jamie.
She was mouthing words he couldn’t hear, cupping his cheeks. When she bent and kissed his cheek, he knew he was dead. “I’m not fucking dying,” he tried to shout, but he knew it came out a whisper because he was weakening, barely able to keep his eyes open.
The wind pulsed against his face, and he opened his eyes, saw the helicopter above, the fiery trail of rounds blasting toward the hill before it wobbled in the air then settled on the sand beside the trail.
He raised a hand to point toward Benny. “Him first,” he said, glancing sideways, but Benny was no longer kneeling. He lay with his eyes open, staring up at the cloudless blue sky.
Kinsey moved away, and Brian glanced down. Tourniquets were on his legs, below his knees. He glanced at Jamie. “They find my boots?”
Her face crumpled, and Tessa wiggled her way in between Jamie and Sergeant Milligan. Her tongue lapped at his cheek. Her cold, wet nose nuzzled his ear.
Any other time, he would have pushed her away, but Brian no longer had the strength. “Hey…they find my boots?”