The last thing rancher Rory Kendrick expects to find when he’s searching for his missing cattle is a genuine damsel in distress. After rushing to help, he can’t help wanting to do anything he can for this lovely but damaged woman. But even his kind deed won’t get Sadie to tell him who’s responsible for hurting her.
Sadie is trying to hold onto her family, and her life. With an ill father who’s refusing treatment and a younger brother who has fallen in with a dangerous crowd, she’s beginning to feel like she can’t save anyone, least of all herself. When her brother owes money to the wrong people, Sadie tries to pay off his debts, but she doesn’t have the cash. The one person who might be able to help her out is the last person she wants to involve in her family drama, but Rory won’t take no for an answer.
Rory is all about family, but sometimes you’ve got to let go. If you can’t save them, save yourself. Sadie’s been dealt a bad hand she refuses to fold. Because he loves her, he’ll do anything to keep her safe and give her the happy life she deserves, even betray her trust to take down her brother.
Cold fear washed through her, stealing her every thought and breath. Her heart slammed into her ribs and stopped for a brief second. Her whole world halted as she stared up into eyes that held nothing but death.
“Kill her and I won’t make any more meth,” her brother yelled.
Startled by her brother’s admission, Sadie glanced at Connor, caught the apologetic look, then stared back up into the devil dude’s flat eyes.
“You’ll cook, or you’re dead. You owe me more than the price of those cattle.”
“If I’m dead you get nothing. Don’t kill her.”
The devil dude smiled. It frightened her more than anything he’d done so far.
“Okay. I won’t kill her.”
The easy acquiescence didn’t ease her mind.
“Grab that wire and rope from my saddle,” he or- dered Scott.
“We should get out of here. Those Kendricks come for their herd and we’re dead.” Scott tried to talk reason with the irrational devil dude.
“Get it now.” The devil dude bit out the words. Scott jumped to do his bidding, beaten without ever really getting in the fight to save her.
The devil dude clamped his hand on her aching jaw and shook her face. “No one fucks with me. If they do, they get what’s coming. You’re going to get your due.” Sadie wanted to run, but he had her on the ground, that damn knife at her neck, pressed so hard to her skin she felt a trickle of blood run down her throat where he cut her. His gaze fell on the blood. The slow smile that spread across his face disturbed her, but not as much as
the lust that filled his dark eyes.
Scott dropped the coiled barbed wire and rope next to her. Connor stood off to the side, pacing, biting at his thumb, his eyes filled with worry, but he didn’t come to her rescue, just kept gnawing on his already raw skin.
“This is going to hurt, bitch.” The menacing words held a note of anticipation and enthusiasm that soured her stomach.
He used his grip on her face to hold her down. He slid the knife into the sheath at his back, pulled a pair of wire cutters from his back pocket, and snipped a long length of wire from the coil. He held it up in front of her, set the tool down, took both her hands, and pulled them up in front of him. She bucked her hips and tried to pull free, but nothing worked to dislodge the big man from her body.
“Let me go, asshole.” She tried to put as much bra- vado in her voice as she could conjure to hide her fear, but the tremble in her voice gave her away.
“You asked for it.”
He wrapped the wire around her wrists and in be- tween. The harder she tried to pull free, the tighter he wound.
Panic rose in her chest, making it difficult to take a deep breath. Her chest heaved in and out. In another minute, she’d be hyperventilating. “Stop. Please. You’re hurting me.”
“Ah, music to my ears.” The amusement in his eyes told her how much he enjoyed her fear and pain.
“You sadistic son of a bitch.”
“Yes, I am.” His eyes went bright with delight.
The barbs bit into her skin. Blood trickled down her arms from multiple punctures.
“Go get the horses while I finish here,” he ordered her brother.
Tony and Scott scurried away without a word. The dread in their eyes when they snuck quick glances back told her how much they feared this man.
“Leave her. You taught her a lesson. Let’s go,” Connor pleaded, pacing back and forth not even five feet away.
“I thought letting her walk home in her underwear in the cold would have taught her a lesson about sticking her nose into things that don’t concern her. But your sister had to go and fuck with me.” The devil dude leaned down close and stared her in the eyes. “You kick me in the balls, bitch, I’ll make you bleed.” The whis- pered threat didn’t lessen the ominous reality that he meant it. He turned back to her brother and yelled, “Go get the horses. Hers too. We’re leaving.”
Connor backed up several steps, then turned and walked away without sparing her a single look, let alone an apology for his cowardice. She expected it, but it still hurt, leaving a pit in her stomach and an ache that squeezed her chest tight. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes, but she blinked them away. Her brother had proven more times than she could count that he’d cover his own ass over anyone else’s, including his own sister’s.
Her heart ached worse than her face, jaw, and bloody wrists combined. How could he just leave her here? How could he turn his back on her like this and live with himself?
Jennifer Ryan is the New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of The Hunted Series and The McBrides Series. She writes romantic suspense and contemporary small-town romances featuring strong men and equally resilient women. Her stories are filled with love, family, friendship, and the happily-ever-after we all hope to find.
Jennifer lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three children. When she isn’t writing a book, she’s reading one. Her obsession with both is often revealed in the state of her home and in how late dinner is to the table. When she finally leaves those fictional worlds, you’ll find her in the garden, playing in the dirt and daydreaming about people who live only in her head, until she puts them on paper.