In the midst of a range war, Garret Daines is dead-set on keeping his ranch from greedy local cattle barons. An attempt on his life during a winter storm lands him in the healing hands of a mountain recluse. He can hardly believe the youthful beauty he discovers hidden beneath her mountain woman attire or the passion unleashed by her tender touch.***
When "Mad Mag" pulls the handsome rancher from the snow she has no idea he'll be the man to thaw her wounded heart. But Maggie is hiding a mess of secrets in her mountain sanctuary, none of which she’s willing to share. Murderous cattlemen threaten their fragile bond and Maggie has to face the fears of her past or risk losing her hope for the future. Garret will defend his wild woman at any cost, but can he convince her their love is worth the risk?
Garret woke to the aroma of stewed meat and the telltale bubbling of something simmering on the stove. He blinked several times, and still he stared up at a high stone ceiling. His gaze swept over rock walls, a black stove to his right...none of it the slightest bit familiar.
His stomach growled, the tantalizing scent drawing his gaze back to the bubbling kettle. Licking his dry lips he glanced at the wood front of what appeared to be someone's home. A lamp to his right and another beyond the foot of the bed created soft circles of light, brightening the dank surroundings.
Where the hell am I?
He pushed up onto his elbows and had to stifle a groan. His body ached as though he hadn't moved in ages. Pain pulsed through his skull, radiating from the left side. He reached up and touched a tender spot above his forehead and discovered a small lump and what felt like a gash beneath his hair. The movement wafted him with a clean, sweet scent. He paused and sniffed his arm.
Sapphire eyes and black hair against delicate ivory skin surfaced in his mind.
The woman. She'd stayed nearby, stroking his skin, encouraging him to drink.
Rest, Garret. You have a fever.
The soft husky voice tantalized his memory with the alluring scent of her skin, her silky softness beneath his lips.
"A dream," he muttered. The only safe place to love a woman.
He pushed the wool blanket aside and froze, surprise prickling through him. He wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing. His gaze skated around the room, searching every shadowed corner. He was alone. In the corner beside the stove was a rumpled blanket and tooth-scrapped bone. Wherever his caretaker had gone, she'd taken his dog. Why was he here? If he was sick, why wasn't he in his own bed? And yet...he didn't recall getting sick. For all he knew some woman had knocked him from his saddle and dragged him to her bed.
Her delicate feminine features surfaced in his mind.
A man could suffer a worse fate.
Another glance around the rough rock walls snuffed that thought. He doubted the delicate creature of his dreams would live in such desolate surroundings. He'd known a couple miners who'd carved out similar dwellings--but none so close to his ranch. Had he dreamed up her pretty face to match the soothing voice and gentle hands that had been caring for him?
He shifted his feet to the floor with silent caution. His bare toes touched down on a cold smooth surface.
Polished wood? He glanced again at the tidy space, noting the canisters, boxes and stacked dishes lined up all nice-like on the wide-set shelves, the stack of blankets folded at the foot of the bed.
He'd never known any miner to be quite so tidy. Every breath drew in a clean floral scent and the mouthwatering aroma of beef stew. He had no memory of entering someone's home, cave or otherwise. How the hell had he gotten here? He closed his eyes, trying to remember. Last he could recall he'd been riding range...he'd ridden home at noon and--Duce. He'd been looking for Duce. His business partner hadn't made it in for the noontime meal. The way the countryside had been strewn with violence and mishaps lately, too many ranchers turning up dead and a storm rolling in...
Chills prickled his skin as he recalled the cold, whipping rain washing out horse tracks he'd followed into the hills--old panic clenched his chest.
He hadn't found Duce.
Garret shot to his feet, pulling the blanket around his waist as he stood. The quick movement made him light-headed and wafted him with the scent of spring flowers, reminding him that whoever lived here had done more than simply tend his fever. He'd been bathed.
He moved toward the door, each step a slow stretch of tense muscles. The way his head and body ached, he could have been struck by lightening. Maybe Duce had found him and brought him to this place.
Spotting his boots tucked beneath the small table beside the rickety door, he pulled them out and stepped into the tall leather shafts. His clothes were nowhere in sight. Surely he'd been fully dressed when he arrived. He scanned three large barrels stacked on top of the other in the far corner and a large chest at the foot of the bed. He was tempted to search their contents for his britches. A pinch in his bladder urged him to search out a privy first. After he relieved himself, he'd find whoever had taken his clothes and his dog and demand some answers.
He pulled open the door and had to shield his face from a flurry of snowflakes. Cold wind buffeted against his bare chest, sending an instant chill shivering across his skin. He stared gap-jawed at the snow piled some three-feet high on either side of the door, a path having been recently shoveled.
"What the hell?"
Through the haze of swirling flakes tall timbers reached toward a gray sky. White topped mountain peeks rose up from all sides.
He was in the high country. He wouldn't have ridden into these snow-packed mountains.
A familiar bark echoed over the rush of wind and Garret stepped into the brisk cold. "Boots!"
Snow burst from the embankment up ahead as his dog bounded onto the shoveled path. Garret grinned, relieved to see his shaggy friend.
"Hey boy," he said, reaching down to pat his furry head while keeping his gaze on movement near the end of the path. He narrowed his eyes, trying to peer through the falling snow as the stranger drew near. The small form slowly immerged through the flurry of flakes, a white hooded coat blending with the winter landscape. He couldn't make out make more than a faint outline and a shotgun clutched in the left hand.
Caution tensed his muscles as the stranger drew close.
Mad Mag was the first thought to his mind, until she looked up. The deep-blue eyes and delicate feminine features lurking beneath that hood stole his breath.
She's real. The passionate woman from his dream.
"You should be inside."
Her voice was low, husky, and flooded his mind with the sounds of breathy moans, the image of her rose-tipped breast straining toward his mouth.
Her harsh tone and stern gaze jarred him from the tantalizing vision. He stepped back, allowing her to rush him through the doorway. She quickly shut out the wind and wisps of snow.
"Go lay down." She pointed toward the far wall, her stern tone commanding as she stared him right in the eyes.
Goddamn--maybe this bitty thing had clubbed him over the head and dragged him to her bed. Shock rippled through him...along with an undeniable stir of attraction.
Boots brushed his leg on his way to the corner, and Garret realized she was talking to his dog, not him. He scrubbed a hand over his stubble-coated jaw. He obviously wasn't working with a full deck. His brain struggled to take hold of the notion that his dream lover stood before him. He stared at her, his mind lost somewhere between reality and a really good dream.