Award-winning author Victoria Vane lets loose the fourth in the Hot Cowboy Nights series
WILD HORSES COULDN’T BRING THEM TOGETHER… With exceptional talent and looks, cowboy “horse whisperer” Keith Russo once had the world at his feet – until his career was unwittingly destroyed by an aspiring filmmaker. After being rejected by his family for exploiting his Native American heritage, Keith has no choice but to turn back to his humble beginnings as a wild horse wrangler.
BUT MAYBE THEIR PASSION CAN… Miranda Sutton always dreamed of making films, until wild mustangs captured her heart. But turning her grandmother’s Montana ranch into a wild horse sanctuary proves harder than she thought. She needs someone who knows wild horses. Keith and the mustangs need each other. And while working together to save the herd, Keith and Miranda discover a passion as wild as the mustangs they love.
Miranda’s pulse raced with adrenaline as the herd approached. The rhythmic whop-whop of the rotor blades was soon joined by a thunderous echo of galloping hoofbeats as the horses picked up speed.
“Look over there.” Beth pointed to the end of the wings. Miranda zoomed in tight on a horse that was stomping and tossing his head. “He’s the Judas horse. His job is to bring them in.”
Beth indicated four wranglers positioned in pairs behind the jute wings. “When the horses enter the trap, the wranglers’ll jump out and shut the gates. Once the horses settle down, we’ll sort and load them into the trailers. The whole process usually takes only a couple of hours if nothing goes wrong.”
Breaking into a contagious canter, the horses produced a ground-quaking reverberation she could feel even from her perch on top of the truck, and raised a cloud of dust large enough to obscure her view of the mountains. As the front of the herd approached the wings, Mitch’s radio squawked again, but Miranda couldn’t make out the words over the stampede. A moment later, the high-pitched buzz of a twin engine plane joined the chaotic cacophony of galloping horses.
“Shit!” Mitch kicked the ground. “It’s happening again.”
“What’s wrong?” Miranda asked.
“There’s a Beechcraft Baron on Trey’s ass. This is all about to go FUBAR.”
Miranda zoomed in on a photographer leaning out the plane window, snapping pictures as it swooped down in front of the horses, a maneuver that effectively split the herd down the middle. She quickly panned back to the wrangler who’d released the Judas horse. The fretful animal bolted, charging to the front of the fractured herd in an attempt to lead it into the catch pens, but only half of the herd entered the trap, while the others galloped wildly past.
The plane dipped low to the ground and flew past the trap. The pilot flashed a triumphant smile and gave the crew the one-finger salute.
“Son of a bitch!” Mitch cursed. “I hope you got that on film.”
“As a matter of fact I did,” Miranda replied. “What are you going to do?”
Mitch gave a fatalistic shrug. “The damage is already done. There’s nothing we can do now but report the license number.”
The scene that followed was pure pandemonium. The captured horses reared and rammed themselves against the steel panels in an effort to join the runaways, and a few tried to climb over the top of the pen. One, a black stallion, even made it halfway up. Miranda cried out in alarm as he crashed backward onto another horse. “Can’t you stop him?”
“There’s nothing we can do,” Mitch said. “That plane’s interference has put their fight-or-flight instincts into high gear.”
“Won’t they hurt themselves?”
“Hopefully not,” Mitch replied. “All we can do now is try to control the chaos.”
The same horse made another attempt. This time with a running start that sent him soaring over the six-foot panel. “Holy crap!” Miranda cried, thrilled that she’d still had her camera going and had caught it all. “I can’t believe he cleared it!”
Mitch sighed, watching the horse’s dramatic escape with a bemused look. “Most of them don’t want to run anymore, but there’s always an outlaw that’ll fight for his freedom.”
“Will you go after him?” she asked.
Mitch shook his head. “No. That renegade’s not worth all the trouble he’ll cause. He’s a fighter. He’ll be okay out there on his own. As for the rest of this bunch, they’ll calm down pretty quick once that plane’s gone. Mustangs are smart. They usually figure things out fast. As a rule, they don’t waste their energy once they know they can’t get out. We just have to wait it out.”
“What about the ones the plane chased off? Are you going after them?”
“We’ve got no choice,” he replied. “There’s almost no water left for at least fifty miles, and very little forage remaining where the water is. It’s going to be really hard on the oldest and youngest ones, because they’re the weakest. We’ll have to try and bring them all back in.”
“What’ll happen to them if you can’t?”
“It’s real simple, Miz Sutton,” Mitch said. “If they don’t come back, they’ll die.”
“Easy, brother,” Keith soothed the restless animal. The agitated gelding tossed his head and jerked on the bit in his growing anxiety to join the galloping herd. The rising dust obscured Keith’s vision, choking him as he watched everything fall apart. He shook his head on a curse as the horses began scattering helter-skelter. For a few seconds he debated joining the wranglers that were mounting up to flank the runaways, but it was just no good. At this point they’d only be able to catch up with the ones that were too weak to keep up with their herdmates. No, the only way to gain any control would be to take command as the leader.
“C’mon, little brother. I’m counting on you.” Squeezing both heels into the horse’s flanks, Keith urged his horse forward. The animal hesitated only a millisecond before diving straight down the near-vertical drop.
“I thought you said you didn’t use any riders for the horse gather,” Miranda remarked.
“We don’t,” Beth replied with a puzzled look. “We only use the Judas horse to lead the mustangs in.”
“Then I guess your Judas horse has found himself a rider. Look up there.” Miranda pointed to a lone horseman poised on the bluff overlooking the trap. Seconds later, he came charging straight down the cliff to join the runaway band, just like the iconic scene from The Man from Snowy River. “Oh. My. God. Do you see that?” she exclaimed. The rider was crouched low over his horse’s withers and riding hell for leather after the runaways, eating yards of ground with every stride.
“I’ll be damned,” Mitch murmured from behind. “It’s Keith.”
Her pulse accelerated as he began to gain on the lead horse. She’d never seen anyone ride like that. Well, not quite. She’d seen only one person ever ride like that. Miranda zoomed in on the wrangler and did an instant double take. It can’t be. Her racing heart skipped a beat. But it had to be. It’d been well over a year since she’d seen him, but she’d recognize him anywhere.
Praise from PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY!
“Sparks ignite when a horse whisperer meets an aspiring filmmaker in Vane’s fourth Hot Cowboy Nights contemporary (after Sharp Shootin’ Cowboy)… Vane’s in-depth knowledge of wild mustangs adds realism to this novel, with its beautiful portrayal of the wilds of the desert as a parallel to the ever-changing but scintillating relationship between Miranda and Keith.”
Praise from RT Book Reviews
“Vane’s fourth Hot Cowboy Nights novel is an interesting character study that features some particularly refreshing insight and development…Vane keeps the bar high by forcing her headstrong protagonists to confront who they truly are and what they want from each other, giving them room to grow and making their happy ending feel well-earned. Fans and newcomers alike will enjoy a satisfying reading experience.”
AVAILABLE JUNE 7, 2016 in print and E-book: AMAZON BARNES&NOBLE KOBO iBOOKS