Read the 1st Chapter of BOUND BY THE MONTANA MOUNTAIN MAN here

BOUND BY THE MONTANA MOUNTAIN MAN
Cowboy Bad Boys 3

JAN BOWLES
Copyright © 2010





Chapter One

Cassie Philips checked the U-Haul trailer attached to the back of her Jeep and then eased into the driver’s seat. Minneapolis lay three days behind her, and this was the final stretch of the journey to her new home in Whitewaters, Montana.

When her Uncle Seth had bequeathed her his ranch, it had been totally unexpected. As the only living relative left, the news had come at a rather dark time in her life.

A bitter divorce battle with Aaron had left her homeless and virtually penniless. Even now, she still couldn’t believe he’d tossed aside their five-year marriage so easily. Up until then, she’d considered the marriage to be a happy one. She should have more rights. It had been Aaron, after all, who had committed adultery. Her lawyer had suggested that had there been children, then things might have been very different. The irony of that was not lost on her.

Her hand shook as she gently brushed the tears from her eyes. Just over a year ago she’d been blissfully happy. Pregnant, and with a husband whom she thought loved her, things couldn’t get any better. Then she’d miscarried, and her happiness had suddenly come to an abrupt end.

Well, Minneapolis held far too many bad memories. Maybe Montana would help clear her mind. At just twenty-seven, she’d made up her mind, she would never, ever, trust a man again.

As she turned out of the motel parking lot onto Interstate 90 for the last time, she breathed in a sigh of relief. Tonight she would be in her very own home. Tomorrow would be the start of her new life.

* * * *

Brad Dawson closed the stable doors and looked once more at the old Philips’ place. Already dark, that was the second time he’d seen flashes of light in the last ten minutes. It certainly looked odd. The place had been empty for a few months now.

He rubbed his hand into his hair. One part of him couldn’t care less. He’d had a running feud with Seth Philips for the past ten years. Now the old coot was dead. So who cared if the place got ransacked?

The other side to him. The more neighborly side thought he ought to investigate. If there was someone stripping its contents, then surely he should report it to the local County Sheriff.

Well, it was no good thinking about it. He’d drive over there, park down the track, and see if he could catch the culprits red-handed.


* * * *

Cassie shone the beam of light once more inside the Jeep. At least she had a flashlight. She took the last of the groceries from the backseat. Arriving in the dark had not been the plan, but circumstances beyond her control, like that flat tire just outside Billings, left her little choice.

Tomorrow she’d deal with the utility company. Right now she just wanted to make up the bed and prepare something to eat.

Just as she closed the passenger door behind her, the bag was ripped from her hand, and she found herself unceremoniously pressed against the side of the Jeep. The breath literally rushed from her lungs. With the wind knocked from her, she became aware of two hundred pounds of male flesh pinning her fast.

Her instinct was to scream, but he held her so tight, her mouth lay crushed against the cool metal.

“Just what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” A deep, masculine voice cut through the night air.

Tired, hungry, and more than a little pissed by the way the day had turned out, Cassie used all her previous experience of self-defense training and jabbed her assailant with an elbow. She managed to create just enough leverage to wrench her mouth free.

“Take your hands off me, dick brain. I live here. Just who the hell are you?”

“Fuck.” Immediately, he stepped away from her. “I’m your neighbor, Brad Dawson. I live just across the way from you. I thought you were ransacking the place.”

When Cassie shone the beam of light toward the voice, she caught a glimpse of a very tall man. At least six-foot-four. He blinked several times as the flashlight picked out his features. A strong jaw with those delicious masculine lines she always liked creased around his mouth. He looked about mid-thirties with dark brown wavy hair and gray eyes. The irises were so pale they almost looked silver in the harsh light.

He was broad too, filling out his tan leather jacket and jeans.

“I suppose you felt safe tackling a woman on her own.”

“Well, you didn’t look much like a woman in the dark. What with wearing a baseball cap an’ all. It all looked mighty strange to me.”

“That’s just great. I’ll wear a label next time.” Cassie felt her hackles rise. This Neanderthal knuckle dragger thought she looked like a guy?

Probably feeling embarrassed, he ignored her curt remark. “Why not switch on the lights instead of scrabbling around in the dark with a flashlight?”

“Pardon me, Mr. Dawson. If that’s all I had to do was flick a switch, don’t you think I’d already have done it? The simple fact is the electric’s not connected. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get on with moving in.”

“Have you tried your generator?”

“I don’t think I’ve got one.”

“Everyone’s got one ’round these parts. When winter comes, the power’s often down.”

She sighed. “Then I’ll have to sort that out in the morning, too.”

“Look, Miss, er, I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”

“Cassie Philips.”

“Miss Philips, we seem to have got off on the wrong foot. As a neighborly gesture, and in place of an apology, I could look at that generator for you.”

When Cassie lifted the bag of groceries off the floor, she knew straight away that the eggs inside had broken. Her retort couldn’t have been more acerbic. “Best not, I think you’ve already done more than enough damage, don’t you?” With that she turned and entered her home. Cassie knew her tiredness made her behave far ruder than normal, but she just couldn’t help herself.

Within a few minutes, the lights suddenly came on. As she looked properly around her home for the first time, tears sprang into her eyes. What sort of a legacy was this? Paint peeled from the walls. A collection of old tins and bottles lay scattered around in every available space. Stacks of newspapers rose from the floor in various sized piles, taking up one corner of the room. Old dishes of moldy food still sat on the pine dresser and table where they had been left. Something scurried along the wooden shelving, and as she looked closer, several cockroaches were intent on evading the light. A small scream left her lips, and she shivered involuntarily. Had her uncle really lived like this? She shook her head. If this was the living room, she dreaded to think what the other rooms would be like.

* * * *

At least he’d gotten the generator working. Now he had something with which to salvage the evening. That was a lesson learned if anything. What was he thinking? Never get involved. Especially when you had neighbors named Philips. They both had impressive tongues.

As he stepped into her hallway he called out, “Miss Philips, I’ve fixed the generator. There’s—” He stopped speaking as he came into the living room. What he saw simply took his breath away.

Cassie Philips had removed her baseball cap, and her long blonde hair flowed down past her waist. A perfect heart-shaped face with gorgeous, pouting lips looked at him through sultry baby blue eyes. How could he have mistaken her for a man?

“I know,” she whispered. “Kinda makes you stand and stare, but I had no idea that Uncle Seth was a compulsive hoarder.”

He cleared his throat and dragged his eyes from her, noticing for the first time the state the room was in. The place looked like a trash can.

He blew a whistle of surprise. “Old Seth was a real recluse. People ’round these parts always knew he wasn’t the full measure. Guess he didn’t like to throw anything away.”

He could clearly see she was upset, and she wiped the tears from her eyes. “Is that the generator?” she asked, pointing to the electric light overhead.

He nodded. “You’ve got enough gas to last a month, so I suggest you get it topped off before winter comes.”
“Well thanks, Mr. Dawson. Guess you came in handy after all. You’ll have to excuse me. I’ve a lot of cleaning up to do.”

For a moment, her vulnerability surfaced, and then it was gone. The cool mask was drawn neatly down to hide her feelings from him. He wondered what the hell she was doing here. Her perfect hair, perfect manicure, and perfect skin all said city girl. Montana in the winter was no place for a woman like her. He’d give her six months, tops. Then she’d sell and go back to wherever she came from.

Maybe then he’d be able to buy that piece of land that had eluded him these past ten years. Seth Philips had been adamant he couldn’t have it, yet it stopped his business dead in its tracks. He just couldn’t develop the ranch the way he wanted.

“If there’s anything you need, Miss Philips, just ask. I live in the ranch a couple miles down the valley. You can’t miss it.”

* * * *

The very next morning, she looked around the property. The house was as she’d suspected last night, in total need of a makeover. Outside she could see her land stretching from the river, down to the road. In total she now owned about a hundred acres. Not an enormous lot, but large enough for what she wanted. Next to the house stood a large wooden barn filled to the rafters with bailed hay.

When her uncle had become ill, all the animals had been sold off. The barn would make a good place for rearing chickens. Maybe she’d get a goat, too. Her intention was to become self-sufficient. The less she had to rely on the outside world, the better.

Cassie spent the next three days raking out the rubbish. She had a fire going in the yard, and after sifting through the contents, most of it went up in flames.

She felt quite sad, destroying someone’s life so quickly and easily, but she reasoned that her uncle hadn’t always been so bizarre. As age had crept up on him, he had become increasingly mentally unstable. Her mother had told her great stories of when they had grown up together. It was just the later part of his life that he’d begun to hoard things.

Some noteworthy items she kept. A beautiful framed photograph of her uncle and her mother when they were children. There appeared to be several documents with her neighbor’s details on them. It looked as though he was buying a piece of land from her uncle and the deal had fallen through.

Maybe she’d pay Brad Dawson a visit and see what he’d been proposing to do. At the moment, she was very low on cash. If she could make some money while still keeping a roof over her head, then all would be well and good.

Indeed, the house had been in such a state she’d immediately ordered a new bed and mattress and some paint. That had cut deep into her savings.

As she watched the flames consuming everything, she marveled at how little she’d thought about Aaron.
Aaron and his new wife were just a distant memory. She looked up at the surrounding mountains and breathed in the fresh rarefied air. This was simply beautiful beyond words. Coming to Montana had been the best thing she’d ever done.

As Cassie threw the last of the rubbish on the fire, she caught a glimpse of a horse and rider fast approaching. Brad Dawson slowed down as he brought the horse to a controlled halt and dismounted right in front of her.
Having lived in the city most of her life, this new mode of transport made her heart somersault. He looked like he’d just stepped off a movie set, with his jeans, denim shirt, and black cowboy hat. His eyes twinkled in the sunlight as he looked at her.

“Just thought I’d stop by and see how my new neighbor’s doing.”

“I’m fine. Finally cleared the house out, as you can see. Broke one or two nails in the process, but they’ll grow again.”

He nodded, his eyes flicking from her face to her hands and back again. “That’s too bad.” Just why had she shown him her hands? She really couldn’t care less about her nails breaking. Maybe deep down, she wanted him to know just how hard she’d worked. But why the need to impress him? Then he said, “I should warn you that the winters get pretty harsh here.”

“Meaning?”

“Nothing. Just that you should get stocked up real early.”

“I intend to.” She felt he had something more on his mind. “Is there anything else you wish to say, Mr. Dawson?”

“Maybe you should think of selling, that’s all. Save you a lot of heartache in the long run. It gets real cold up here as the nights close in. It’s not a place for a woman like you.”

Cassie felt indignant. Whenever she was in his presence, she just bristled. “And what sort of woman would that be?”

“City girl.” His eyes pierced into her.

“You sure have some audacity, Mr. Dawson. Maybe you should just mind your own business. I don’t think men are the only ones who can cope in a harsh environment. I came from Minneapolis, and we had pretty severe winters there, too.”

He laughed out loud. He removed his hat and thwacked it against his leg. “Hell, sweetheart. Winters in Minneapolis ain’t nothin’ compared to what we get here. You get four inches of snow in a day. We get four feet.”

Folding her arms across her chest, she fixed him in her gaze. “If I were to sell, I suppose you know someone who’d most likely buy it.”

“Maybe.” A half smile formed, deepening the creases around his mouth. What was it with dimples, anyway?
“Like you, perhaps?” When he didn’t answer, she continued, “I found those documents you drafted up. Maybe that’s why you want me to sell. Perhaps you’re not really interested in my welfare, after all, but in that piece of land you want to get your hands on.”

He placed his hat back on his head. “Whoa now, lady, slow down. I assure you that was the last thing on my mind.”

“Mr. Dawson, I was going to come and see you in a day or two and discuss that parcel of land. But I think my Uncle Seth was a good judge of character. He could tell at a glance that you were up to no good. I’ve no doubt you only offered him a fraction of what the land is worth, thinking he was too old and crazy to understand.” She pointed the one manicured finger she had left at him. “So no, Mr. Dawson. I won’t be moving, and I won’t be selling, either.”

He smiled as he studied her. “You’ll learn.” He mounted his horse and then turned to looked at her as he gathered the reins in his hand. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Then he rode away as calmly as anything, leaving Cassie wondering if she’d imagined the whole episode.

She stormed into the house. If there was one thing she hated about a man, it was pig-headed chauvinism. Well, she had news for him. Cassie Phillips would show him she could handle anything Mother Nature could throw at her, and then some.

* * * *

As Brad rode away, he couldn’t help but smile. The woman had spunk, that was for sure. She was a little firebrand. Okay, so he may have been thinking about that piece of land, but he wanted to warn her about the harsh winters, too. Make her think a little about planning ahead.

Her face had been smudged with soot, and she looked kind of cute with her hair in braids. There was something very earthy about her, which was unusual considering she was a city girl. Though she wasn’t his usual type, but then he didn’t really have a type. At thirty-five, he’d had more than his fair share of women. He just hadn’t found one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Cassie intrigued him. He wondered just what a woman like her was doing in a place like this, all on her own.

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