They're the McCords...three rugged, sexy cowboy cousins who'll inherit the family range--if they seek the treasure hidden on it. But even more precious are the women who can tame their wild hearts... Emergency medic Marilee Trainor likes her freedom and lives for trouble. But when she stumbles upon a clue to the legendary McCord gold, she 's suddenly in a mysterious killer's sights--and the arms of irresistible playboy Wyatt McCord. This McCord cousin has been everywhere, yet the ranch is the only place he feels at home. Now Marilee's courage and independence make him want to protect her, win her heart, and finally settle down. But trust is the one thing Wyatt and Marilee can't easily give. And their survival and everything they cherish depends on whether they can surrender to each other--to fight for their... MONTANA DESTINY
Release date: April 10, 2010
Print pages: 353
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R. C. Ryan
Hang on, Clint.” Twelve-year-old Wyatt McCord hung on the wooden fence at the town’s rodeo grounds, shouting encouragement
to the cowboy fighting to stay in the saddle of the meanest bucking bronco on the rodeo circuit.
Beside him, his cousins, Jesse and Zane, watched wide-eyed as the rider was tossed high in the air before landing facedown
in the dirt. While two cowboys in clown costumes distracted the crazed animal, a handler hustled the cowboy through a gate
“Wow!” Eleven-year-old Zane looked properly impressed. “Did you see how close he came to being trampled?”
“He didn’t stick long enough to qualify.” Wyatt couldn’t hide his scorn.
“You think you could?” Jesse, at fourteen the oldest of the three, shot his cousin a knowing look.
“Maybe not now. But I bet a couple of years from now, I’ll do better’n old Clint.”
Jesse spit in the dirt, the way he’d seen his grandfather’s wranglers do along the trail. “I’ll take that bet. A couple of
years from now.” He shared a grin with Zane. “And I’m betting we’ll be picking you up out of the dirt and hauling you home
“Not me. Haven’t you heard? I’m Superman.” Wyatt watched as the next cowboy climbed atop the rail, preparing to drop into
the saddle when the gate opened. “I figure if I’m going to carry on Coot’s name, I’d better be good at everything I try. Especially
in this town.”
“Why bother?” Jesse looked around at the sea of faces in town for the annual rodeo, completely unaware of the cluster of preteen
girls who watched from a distance, sighing over him and his cousins. “They all figure our grandpa’s crazy anyway. Why should
we bother trying to impress them?”
“It’s not about them.” Wyatt turned away from the railing as yet another cowboy bit the dust.
His two cousins followed.
The three cousins looked more like brothers, with the same dark, curly hair and the McCord laughing blue eyes. They and their
families shared the sprawling ranch house that was home to three generations of McCords. Homeschooled, they were best friends.
Their bond, forged since birth, was wide and deep.
“It’s about proving to Grandpa that we don’t feel the same way as the folks here in town do. They might call him a crazy old
coot, but we know better. Our ancestor’s treasure really is out there somewhere. And we’ve got to be stronger, and smarter,
so that when the day comes that we can join Coot in his search, we’ll be ready.”
Zane stopped and studied the booth selling corn dogs and chili fries. “I’d be a whole lot stronger and smarter with a couple
Laughing, the three pooled their money and invested in as many dogs and fries as they could afford.
They sat cross-legged in the shade and polished off their lunch, believing, with all the innocence of youth, that the only
life they’d ever known could not possibly end, even though the fabric of their family had already begun to unravel. All three
of them had heard voices, often late at night, raised in protest. Grumblings about too much togetherness. Complaints about
the restrictions of ranch life. Coot’s once loyal sons were being asked to choose between a father’s lifelong search for lost
treasure and the needs of wives who yearned for a future far from the Montana wilderness.
Unknown to these three carefree boys, this would be the last rodeo they would share for many years to come.
Wyatt.” Amy McCord turned to watch as her husband’s cousin paused at one of the food booths set up at the rodeo grounds. “You’ve
already had two corn dogs. Don’t tell me you’re buying another one.”
“All right. I won’t tell you.” Despite his faded denims and scuffed boots, with his hair blowing in the wind, Wyatt McCord
looked more like an eternal surfer than a cowboy. “But I can’t get enough of these.” He took a big bite, closed his eyes on
a sigh, and polished off the corn dog in three bites.
Wiping his hands down his jeans he caught up with his cousins, Jesse and Zane, and Jesse’s bride, Amy.
Their grandfather’s funeral had brought the cousins together after years of separation. Now the three had begun to resolve
years of old differences and were quickly becoming the same inseparable friends they’d been in their childhood.
Wyatt glanced around. “Where did all these people come from? It looks like half of Montana is here.”
Jesse grinned. “Gold Fever might be a small town, but when it’s rodeo time, every cowboy worth his spurs makes it here. In
the past couple of years it’s become one of the best in the West.”
The four paused at the main corral, where a cowboy was roping a calf. While they hung on the rail and marveled at his skill,
Zane whipped out his ever-present video camera to film the action. During his years in California he’d worked with famed director
Steven Michaelson filming an award-winning documentary on wild mustangs. Now he’d become obsessed with making a documentary
of life in Montana, featuring their ongoing search for a treasure stolen from their ancestors over a hundred years ago.
The search had consumed their grandfather’s entire adult life, causing the people who knew him to give him the nickname Crazy
Old Coot. He’d embraced the name, and in his will, he’d managed to entice his three grandsons to take up his search, no matter
where it might lead them.
Jesse looked over at a holding pen, where riders were drawing numbers for the bull-riding contest. “There’s one you ought
to try, cuz.” He laughed at Wyatt’s arched brow. “It doesn’t take just skill, but a really hard head to survive.”
“Not to mention balls of steel,” Zane remarked while keeping his focus on the action in the ring.
Wyatt merely grinned. “Piece of cake.”
Jesse couldn’t resist. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a roll of bills. “Twenty says you can’t stick in the saddle
for more than ten seconds.”
“Make it a hundred and I’ll take that bet.”
Jesse threw back his head and roared. “Cuz, you couldn’t stay on a bull’s back for a thousand.”
“Is it a bet?” Wyatt sent him a steely look.
“Damned straight. My hundred calls your bluff.”
Wyatt turned to Zane. “You’re my witness. And you might want to film this. I doubt I’ll offer to do a repeat.”
Without waiting for a reply he sauntered away and approached the cluster of cowboys eyeing the bulls.
Half an hour later, wearing a number on his back and having parted with the fifty-dollar entry fee, he stood with the others
and waited his turn to ride a bull.
While he watched the action in the ring he noticed the ambulance parked just outside the ring. In case any fool wasn’t already
aware of the danger, that brought home the point. But it wasn’t the emergency vehicle that caught his attention; it was the
woman standing beside it. There was no way he could mistake those long, long legs encased in lean denims, or that mass of
fiery hair spilling over her shoulders and framing the prettiest face he’d ever seen. Marilee Trainor had been the first woman
to catch Wyatt’s eye the moment he got back in town scant months ago. He’d seen her dozens of times since, but she’d always
managed to slip away before he’d had time to engage her in conversation.
Not this time, he thought with a wicked grin.
“McCord.” A voice behind him had him turning.
“You’re up. You drew number nine.”
A chorus of nervous laughter greeted that announcement, followed by a round of relieved voices.
“Rather you than me, cowboy.”
“Man, I’m sure glad I ducked that bullet.”
“I hope your life insurance is paid up.”
Wyatt studied the bull snorting and kicking its hind legs against the confining pen, sending a shudder through the entire
ring of spectators. If he didn’t know better, Wyatt would have sworn he’d seen fire coming out of the bull’s eyes.
“What’s his name?” He climbed the wood slats and prepared to drop into the saddle atop the enraged animal’s back.
“Devil. And believe me, sonny, he lives up to it.” The grizzled old cowboy handed Wyatt the lead rope and watched while he
twisted it around and around his hand before dropping into the saddle.
In the same instant the gate was opened, and bull and rider stormed into the center ring to a chorus of shouts and cries and
whistles from the crowd.
Devil jerked, twisted, kicked, and even crashed headlong into the boards in an attempt to dislodge its hated rider. For his
part, Wyatt had no control over his body as it left the saddle, suspended in midair, before snapping forward and back like
a rag doll, all the while remaining connected by the tenuous rope coiled around his hand.
Though it lasted only sixty seconds, it was the longest ride of his life.
When the bullhorn signaled that he’d met the qualifying time, he struggled to gather his wits, waiting until Devil was right
alongside the gate before he freed his hand, cutting himself loose. He flew through the air and over the corral fence, landing
in the dirt at Marilee Trainor’s feet.
“My God! Don’t move.” She was beside him in the blink of an eye, kneeling in the dirt, probing for broken bones.
Wyatt lay perfectly still, enjoying the feel of those clever, practiced hands moving over him. When she moved from his legs
to his torso and arms, he opened his eyes to narrow slits and watched her from beneath lowered lids.
She was the perfect combination of beauty and brains. He could see the wheels turning as she did a thorough exam. Even her
brow, furrowed in concentration, couldn’t mar that flawless complexion. Her eyes, the color of the palest milk chocolate,
were narrowed in thought. Strands of red hair dipped over one cheek, giving her a sultry look.
Satisfied that nothing was broken, she sat back on her heels, feeling a moment of giddy relief. That was when she realized
that he was staring.
She waved a hand before his eyes. “How many fingers can you see?”
“Four fingers and a thumb. Or should I say four beautiful, long, slender fingers and one perfect thumb, connected to one perfect
arm of one perfectly gorgeous female? And, I’m happy to add, there’s no ring on the third finger of that hand.”
She caught the smug little grin on his lips. Her tone hardened. “I get it. A showboat. I should have known. I don’t have time
to waste on some silver-tongued actor.”
“Why, thank you. I had no idea you’d examined my tongue. Mind if I examine yours?”
She started to stand but his hand shot out, catching her by the wrist. “Sorry. That was really cheesy, but I couldn’t resist
His tone altered, deepened, just enough to have her glancing over to see if he was still teasing.
He met her look. “Are you always this serious?”
Despite his apology, she wasn’t about to let him off the hook, or change her mind about him. “In case you haven’t noticed,
rodeos are a serious business. Careless cowboys tend to break bones, or even their skulls, as hard as that may be to believe.”
She stared down at the hand holding her wrist. Despite his smile, she could feel the strength in his grip. If he wanted to,
he could no doubt break her bones with a single snap. But she wasn’t concerned with his strength, only with the heat his touch
was generating. She felt the tingle of warmth all the way up her arm. It alarmed her more than she cared to admit.
“My job is to minimize damage to anyone who is actually hurt.”
“I’m grateful.” He sat up so his laughing blue eyes were even with hers. If possible, his were even bluer than the perfect
Montana sky above them. “What do you think? Any damage from that fall?”
Her instinct was to move back, but his fingers were still around her wrist, holding her close. “I’m beginning to wonder if
you were actually tossed from that bull or deliberately fell.”
“I’d have to be a little bit crazy to deliberately jump from the back of a raging bull just to get your attention, wouldn’t
“Yeah.” She felt the pull of that magnetic smile that had so many of the local females lusting after Wyatt McCord. Now she
knew why he’d gained such a reputation in such a short time. “I’m beginning to think maybe you are. In fact, more than a little.
A whole lot crazy.”
“I figured it was the best possible way to get you to actually talk to me. You couldn’t ignore me as long as there was even
the slightest chance that I might be hurt.”
There was enough romance in her nature to feel flattered that he’d go to so much trouble just to arrange to meet her. At least,
she thought, it was original. And just dangerous enough to appeal to a certain wild-and-free spirit that dominated her own
Then her practical side kicked in, and she felt an irrational sense of annoyance that he’d wasted so much of her time and
energy on his weird idea of a joke.
“Oh, brother.” She scrambled to her feet and dusted off her backside.
“Want me to do that for you?”
She paused and shot him a look guaranteed to freeze most men.
He merely kept that charming smile in place. “Mind if we start over?” He held out his hand. “Wyatt McCord.”
“I know who you are.”
“Okay. I’ll handle both introductions. Nice to meet you, Marilee Trainor. Now that we have that out of the way, when do you
get off work?”
“Not until the last bull rider has finished.”
“Want to grab a bite to eat? When the last rider is done, of course.”
“Sorry. I’ll be heading home.”
“Why, thanks for the invitation. I’d be happy to join you. We could take along some pizza from one of the vendors.”
She looked him up and down. “I go home alone.”
“Sorry to hear it.” There was that grin again, doing strange things to her heart. “You’re missing out on a really fun evening.”
“You have a high opinion of yourself, McCord.”
He chuckled. Without warning he touched a finger to her lips. “Trust me. I’d do my best to turn that pretty little frown into
an even prettier smile.”
Marilee couldn’t believe the feelings that collided along her spine. Splinters of fire and ice had her fighting to keep from
shivering despite the broiling sun.
Because she didn’t trust her voice, she merely turned on her heel and walked away from him.
It was harder to do than she’d expected. And though she kept her spine rigid and her head high, she swore she could feel the
heat of that gaze burning right through her flesh.
It sent one more furnace blast rushing through her system. A system already overheated by her encounter with the bold, brash,
irritatingly charming Wyatt McCord.
“A hundred bucks, cuz. And judging by that spectacular toss over the rail, I’d say you earned it.”
Wyatt tucked the money into his pocket. “It was pretty spectacular, wasn’t it? And it worked. It got the attention of our
pretty little medic.”
Jesse, Amy, and Zane stopped dead in their tracks.
Amy laughed. “You did all that to get Lee’s attention?”
“Nothing else I’ve tried has worked. I was desperate.”
Jesse shook his head in disbelief. “Did you ever think about just buying her a beer at the Fortune Saloon? I’d think that
would be a whole lot simpler than risking broken bones leaping off a bull.”
“But not nearly as memorable. The next time she sees me at the saloon, she’ll know my name.”
Zane threw back his head and roared. “So will every shrink from here to Helena. You have to be certifiably nuts to do all
that just for the sake of a pretty face.”
“Hey.” Wyatt slapped his cousin on the back. “Whatever works.”
Zane pulled out a roll of bills. “Ten says she’s already written you off as someone to avoid at all costs.”
Wyatt’s smile brightened. “Chump change. If you want to bet me, make it a hundred.”
“You got it.” Zane pulled a hundred from the roll and handed it to Jesse. “Now match it, cuz. I was going to bet that you
can’t persuade Marilee Trainor to even speak to you again. But just to make things interesting, I’m betting that you can’t
get her to have dinner with you tonight.”
“Dinner? Tonight? Now you’re pushing the limits, cuz. She’s already refused me.”
“Put up or shut up.”
Wyatt arched a brow. “You want me to kiss and tell?”
“I don’t say anything about kissing. I don’t care what you do, after you get her to have dinner with you. That’s the bet.
So if you’re ready to admit defeat, just give me the hundred now.”
“Uh-oh.” Wyatt stopped dead in his tracks. “Is that a dare?”
Amy stood between them, shaking her head. “You sound like two little kids.”
Wyatt shot her a wicked grin. “Didn’t you know that all men are just boys at heart?”
He reached into his pocket and handed Zane a bill before he strolled away.
Over his shoulder he called, “I’ll catch you back at the ranch. You can pay me then.”
He left his cousins laughing and shaking their heads.
Marilee stepped from the shower and turbaned her hair in a towel before slathering her fair skin with lotion. After toweling
her hair she stepped into a pair of boy-style boxer shorts and tied a cotton shirt at her midriff.
Leaving her damp hair streaming down her back in a riot of tangles, she padded barefoot to the tiny kitchen of her apartment
and set a kettle on for tea. After rummaging through the refrigerator, she decided her supper would have to be a peanut butter
and jelly sandwich. She was too tired to bother with a grilled cheese. That would require taking out a pan, turning on the
burner, and watching to see that she didn’t burn it. Too much wasted energy.
While she waited for the water to boil, she sank down onto a barstool at the tiny kitchen counter. It had been a good day.
Except for a run to Dr. Wheeler’s clinic with an out-of-towner who needed stitches, there’d been no serious injuries. No broken
bones. No head injuries. During rodeo time, this was considered a very good day indeed.
Rodeo. The very word had her smiling. She loved the sights and sounds and smells of the fairgrounds. Reveled in the people and
animals and pageantry. Like the men and women who followed the circuit, she appreciated the athletic ability required to win
an event. The professionals were superb athletes. But she also enjoyed the pure freedom expressed by the ordinary cowboys
who showed up year after year just to compete with fellow wranglers. Not for fame, or money, or trophies, but for the pure
love of the sport.
She loved mingling with the men and women who spent their lives doing the backbreaking work required to keep a ranch going.
These were the people to whom rodeo meant the most. The same men and women who competed in hog-tying, calf-roping, and bull-riding
for sport did the same thing all year on their ranches, not for sport but out of necessity. They honed their skills in the
real world, far away from the glamour of these few days in the limelight.
In many ways this lifestyle was far removed from the life she’d lived growing up. Maybe that was why Gold Fever satisfied
her so. After a lifetime of enduring the strict military code that had colored her childhood, she felt as though she’d somehow
stepped into an alternate universe, where the only rules were those she set for herself.
She loved being in charge. Loved choosing the path less traveled by most of her friends. As a girl forced to pull up stakes
at a moment’s notice, she’d dreamed of putting down roots and staying long enough to really know the people around her. Though
many of the ranchers in these parts rarely made the long drive to town, they always remembered her name and offered their
hands in friendship. These were good, hardworking people, and she felt fortunate to live among them and call them friends.
When the kettle whistled, she sighed and heaved herself to her feet. Before she could reach it, there was a knock on the door.
While she tried to decide which one to deal with, there was a second knock. Curiosity won out, and she chose to ignore the
kettle and see who was at her door at this late hour.
After peering through the tiny hole, she opened the door. “What are you…? How did you find out where I live?”
“This is Gold Fever, remember? Everybody knows everything about everybody. I could have asked a dozen people, and they’d all
know that Marilee Trainor lives in the apartment above the emergency medical garage on Nugget Street in downtown Gold Fever.”
Wyatt brushed past her and placed a cardboard box on the kitchen counter.
She barely remembered to close the door before following him. “Just a minute. I don’t recall inviting you in.”
“You didn’t. I invited myself.”
She stared at the box. “Is that pizza?”
“It is. But if you’d like me to leave…” He picked up the box and made a move to go.
“Wait.” Without thinking, she put a hand on his arm. And became instantly aware of the ripple of muscle beneath the shirt
He paused. “Hungry?”
Relieved to let go of him, she put a hand to her middle. “Starving. But I was too tired to do much about it.”
He reached over and lifted the whistling teakettle off the burner. “That’s piercing. How can you stand it?” He turned to her.
“Now, what were you saying? Did I hear you say ‘Come on in, Wyatt’? ‘I’m so thankful that you came along just in time to save
me from starvation’?”
Though she wanted to laugh at his silly sense of humor, she managed to stop herself just in time. “I told you I wanted to
“And you will be. I’m leaving. Right after you guess what’s on the pizza.”
“I don’t play games.”
“Your loss. Try to guess anyway.”
“Why don’t I just peek?”
As she reached for the lid he put a hand over hers. “First, tell me what you like.”
There it was again. That sizzle of electricity from the mere touch of him. “All right. I’ll play along. But just to get you
moving toward the door. The only things I like on my pizza are sausage, mushrooms, green pepper, and onion.”
“Your wish…” He lifted the lid and she stared in surprise.
“Who told you?” Before he could say a word, she held up a hand. “Never mind. As you said, this is Gold Fever. Ask half the
town what I like on my pizza, and they could probably tell you.”
“Or, I could be a really gifted mind reader.”
She couldn’t hold back the laughter. “You could be. But I’ll stick with door number one. What’s in the bag?”
“Wine.” He lifted it from the slim bag and pulled a corkscrew from his pocket.
At her arched brow, he grinned. “Just in case you didn’t have one.”
“My my. What a handyman. You do think of everything, don’t you?”
“I try. Glasses?”
“You’re assuming that I’m inviting you to stay.”
“I’m assuming that you’. . .
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