Here is the prologue and 1st Chapter of The Wicked Rancher's Indecent Proposal in their entirety. I hope you enjoy it.
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THE WICKED RANCHER’S INDECENT PROPOSAL
Carnal Sins 2
Copyright © 2014
“Goddamn it, Biff. Quit your hollering. You know it’s me.”
The old hound’s incessant barking cut right through Brett Sinclair as he fumbled to get his key in the lock after drinking far too much yet again. It didn’t help that Biff was now fourteen years old and almost totally deaf, meaning that he was easily spooked. Back in the day, every other dog in the neighborhood had feared his faithful companion, but now, in the twilight of his life, Biff’s bark was definitely worse than his bite.
Feeling the worse for wear, Brett finally pushed open the sturdy oak door to the ranch house to be greeted by his best friend. Despite the advancing years, Biff still found enough energy to jump up at him, his ragged tongue basting his neck with an enthusiasm that demonstrated how pleased he was to see his master again.
“Yeah, yeah, I love you, too, buddy. Now calm down, and let me inside.”
After slamming the heavy door behind him, Brett staggered to an easy chair by the fireplace before landing heavily on the soft, welcoming cushions. Now he was home again, Biff seemed to simmer down, sitting contentedly at his booted feet before giving a mighty yawn, immediately followed by a whining sigh.
Brett waved a hand in front of his face. “Jesus, buddy, we’re gonna have to do something about that bad breath of yours. It’s starting to peel the paint off the walls. Remind me to put some dental chews on the grocery list for when I next go into town.”
The elderly mongrel of dubious parentage cocked his head to one side, then lifted his left ear, as if he knew exactly what Brett was saying. The old dog then gave another mournful sigh before stretching out and laying his head between his front paws.
“I know exactly how you feel, buddy. Life’s a bitch then you die. I guess you miss your mistress as much as I do.” Still talking to the dog as though he were a human being, Brett continued, “I can’t believe it’s five years to the day since Simone was killed in that fucking car crash, and with my unborn child inside her, too.”
Time and events had hardened him, turning him into a selfish bastard of a man, but even so, Brett still felt the need to wipe the moisture from the corners of his eyes. “Fuck it all. Fuck the world and everything in it.”
He shook his head. “I need another drink.” But he was too tired and wasted to get out of the chair. “Life sucks, buddy. Answer me this, Biff. How the hell does a guy go from being a top Wall Street stockbroker to being someone who doesn’t give a fuck about anything or anyone? How does that happen? Answer me that if you can.”
Biff lifted his head from between his paws to look adoringly at his master. His gray muzzle was clearly visible as the light from the open fire flickered in those nonjudgmental brown eyes.
“You can’t kid me, pal. You don’t have any more answers than I do.”
As if agreeing, Biff let out another mighty yawn, then plonked his head between his paws again and closed his eyes.
The old saying was true—life turns on a dime. The first thirty years of his time on this earth couldn’t have run more smoothly. He’d been happy, healthy, and wealthy, and when Simone did him the honor of becoming his wife, things became perfect. Up until that point, everything had slotted effortlessly into place. That was until a cop by the name of John Cooper had arrived unexpectedly at their penthouse apartment in New York. The guy had that look on his face, the sort that immediately set off warning bells deep in the recesses of his mind.
Detective Cooper had solemnly told him that they believed the heavily pregnant twenty-nine-year-old woman found dead in the mangled Porsche was his beautiful wife Simone. Brett had felt his world begin to crumble when the overweight cop then matter-of-factly said, “I know this must be difficult for you right now, Mr. Sinclair, but we need you to make a formal identification of the body, just to be sure.”
Since that day, his life had started to unravel big-time. Despondency and disillusionment now took the place of the happiness and contentment that had once come so easily to him when Simone was still alive.
He leaned down and stroked his hand along the back of the old hound, enjoying the feel of his rough, coarse coat. Biff was certainly no pampered pooch, but he loved him all the same.
“You’re just a dog, so you don’t know what a debt of gratitude you owe your mistress. She was the kind lady who found you abandoned in a cardboard box when you were a pup so young your eyes were still closed. It was February, and a freezing cold New York day. If she hadn’t changed her route on her way to work and walked past that piece of wasteland, you’d be history right now, pal. She tucked you inside her coat and saved your life. Simone was barely twenty at the time, and still living with her parents. Later on, when we met and decided to go out together for the first time, she told me in no uncertain terms that you came as part of the package. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, buddy, and I wouldn’t be without you now. You’re a link to the woman I loved. Still love.”
Biff sighed contentedly beneath his touch, snuffling a little.
“Yeah, let’s get some rest.” Brett settled back in the easy chair situated next to the crackling open fire. “Tomorrow’s another day.”
When he closed his eyes, he could still see Simone smiling, just like she’d always done. Just like he’d once done.
Brett Sinclair didn’t smile any more.
What was the point?
As Carly Wilson energetically chopped wood in the yard, she felt her anger with the world steadily growing. Life wasn’t fair. In fact, it sucked. A month ago today, her wonderful father, Jack Wilson, had died at her mother’s bedside. The nursing staff had found his frail, lifeless body, clinging to the woman he loved so dearly. Maybe there was a God after all because her equally wonderful mother, Jane Wilson, was completely unaware that her life partner for the past thirty-five years had gone. Aged just sixty-three, she’d suffered a severe stroke some six months before, and during that time had sadly shown absolutely no signs of awareness.
It was the stress that had killed him. He loved her mother so much that he couldn’t bear to see her in such a comatose, vegetative state, with little or no hope of recovery. Carly figured that at the age of seventy-two, the daily round trip of a hundred and fifty miles to see the woman he adored had finally proved too much, even for her devoted father.
Carly felt bitter at times, angry even, but in some ways her father’s poignant death was a beautiful demonstration of one human being’s love and devotion for another. The mere thought of her dad breathing his last while comforting his only true love often made her emotions bubble over into tears. His exit from this world was almost poetic. He couldn’t have done any more to comfort and keep her alive, and when the stress finally proved too much, his already weak heart gave out.
Despite the overwhelming sadness Carly experienced whenever she remembered, it seemed somehow fitting and dignified that her father died right there beside her mother.
As an only child, she’d had to make the funeral arrangements herself. Her mother had no siblings, and her father’s three older brothers were too infirm to offer anything other than moral support. The whole episode, including choosing the casket, flowers, hymns, and everything else that went with a burial had proved extremely traumatic for her—just as it would for anyone. However, with her father now laid to rest, she hoped the worse was over, and she felt proud of herself for not buckling under the immense strain.
Her mother still lay in a vegetative state in Montana’s finest medical facility, Big Horn County Hospital, located some seventy-five miles away. Carly hoped that she remained blissfully unaware of the tragic events that had unfolded all around her.
Since her father’s untimely death, the hospital hierarchy had mentioned with the best of intentions that the option existed for turning off her mother’s life-support machine. They’d explained the situation with as much compassion as was possible for people who didn’t know her mother personally, people who didn’t understand how much Jane Wilson was loved, was still loved. They’d mentioned the exact same option to her father two weeks before his death. He’d vehemently resisted, believing his beloved wife could make a miraculous recovery if that was what the good Lord wanted. Well, in memory of her dad she’d resist, too, for now. Although, the costs of keeping her mother alive were growing with each and every passing day, and the responsibility of paying the hospitals bills now lay solely with her.
Frustration boiled up inside her again, needing its escape. Goddamn her mother’s medical insurance policy. It came with so many clauses and exclusions that she could drive a speeding Greyhound bus straight through the center of it.
Carly raised the axe high above her head before angrily taking out her frustration on a particularly sizeable log, splitting the bastard clean in two, sending the pieces flying in opposite directions at high speed. She hated small print. It should be banned, because its sole purpose was to mislead the elderly and those with poor eyesight.
She looked back at the ranch house with affection. Whitewashed and gleaming in the midday sun, the timber-constructed property with a full wraparound porch and softly pitched roof was typical of the area. It was the very same house she’d lived in as a child. Carly fondly remembered spending endless summer days, sitting on that very stoop, helping her mother shell peas or top and tail the gooseberries they’d just picked together from the garden.
Those were happy times.
But time moved on, and at the tender and still vulnerable age of eighteen, she’d started a three-year course at the University of Illinois, which was scarily located some thirteen hundred miles away from home. She’d loved animals since before she could walk and had always wanted to become a vet when she grew up. She’d succeeded, too.
Since her father’s death, she’d secured power of attorney over the ranch and all her mother’s affairs. She was in sole charge of Bear Creek Ranch now, complete with ten thousand acres, twenty thousand head of beef cattle, and four ranch hands who relied on her for a paycheck at the end of each month. Just like the President, the buck stopped with her.
It was strange, but she’d moved full circle, returning to her roots to start a new life. There were many challenges ahead, which frightened her, but her ma and pa hadn’t raised their only daughter to be a quitter.
She raised the axe above her head again, and even though it was a chilly February day, she felt sweat trickle down her back, robbing her of any femininity. Right now there was no time for beautification and girly things like pretty shoes and dresses. Such frivolous luxuries would have to put on hold. Bringing the chopper down on yet another piece of lumber that seemed reluctant to split, she sighed loudly. Heavy boots and dungarees were far more suitable for running a ranch on the desolate prairie land of Montana.
Carly threw down the axe, then stretched her arms high above her head, groaning out loud as she arched her aching back. This was no work for a woman, but it had to be done. With almost ten thousand acres of land, her ranch hands had more important things to spend their time on. As she wiped the sweat from her brow, she spied a lone horseman on the horizon, and believing it to be Jed, her ranch foreman, waved at him. When he didn’t respond in his usual friendly manner by giving a cheery wave back, she shielded her eyes from the midday sun and looked again. On closer inspection, it wasn’t Jed. Whoever this guy was, he cut a far more imposing figure as he sat astride his jet-black stallion. What was more, he had a dog running alongside him, too.
Who the hell was he?
Before everything had gone pear-shaped, her parents had told her that a reclusive guy by the name of Brett had taken over the old Peterson ranch next door. That would be some three years ago now, but other than that, she knew nothing about the man. Maybe it was him. As he drew closer, she recognized the dog with the tall mysterious stranger, if not the man himself. The old hound had been a regular visitor to Bear Creek Ranch over the last few weeks, and being a pushover for anything with fur and four legs, she’d indulged the friendly pooch with plenty of tasty tidbits.
The dog didn’t wear a collar, so she didn’t know his name, but he’d often visit late in the evening before disappearing as mysteriously as he’d arrived.
Carly waited expectantly, hands on hips, until the stranger and his dog finally reached her. Snorting from its exertions, the magnificent stallion was obviously a thoroughbred and therefore highly strung. Clearly impatient and chomping at its bit, the horse pawed the ground with a hoof.
With none of her ranch hands in sight, and being a woman on her own, she decided her best option would be to employ a cautious approach to the arrival of the unknown horseman.
Carly smiled. “Hi, there.” She then patted her thighs and hunkered down. “And hi there to you, too, sweetie.” The old dog immediately trotted over to her, then obligingly offered her his paw as if to say hello again. When she lifted her head and looked at the handsome stranger sitting silently on the magnificent black horse, she saw his face was set in stone.
He obviously wasn’t amused. “Careful there, lady, he’s a one-man dog. He can be unpredictable at times.”
“Nonsense.” To prove her point the old dog obligingly rolled on his back, allowing her to tickle his belly. “You’re an old softie, aren’t you? What’s his name?”
“Biff, huh? Suits him. Well, Biff here visits almost every night. He must know I’m a soft touch.” She tickled the old dog’s belly some more before raising her gaze to look at the mysterious stranger again, whose expression was still inscrutable. Aged around thirty-five, he was tall and muscular, with rugged features that appealed to her. As he stared coldly at her, Carly realized he also did a good line in intimidation, having the power to make her feel uneasy on her own land.
The guy looked familiar, but she couldn’t quite place him. With the silence between them becoming oppressive, she tried to engage him in conversation again.
“Are you Brett, the guy who’s taken over the old Peterson ranch?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
The stranger obviously wasn’t big on small talk. Instead, his piercing blue eyes stared mercilessly at her as though inspecting something subhuman. His demeanor was cold and unfeeling, and she couldn’t stop herself from shivering.
Carly couldn’t shake the feeling that she knew this man from somewhere, that they’d met before—but where?
As he dismounted his horse, she saw he was even taller than she’d first imagined. He was easily six two, probably more, and when he casually removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow, collar-length hair the color of corn streaked by the sun feathered in the gentle breeze.
Her first meeting with the new neighbor wasn’t going as well as she’d hoped, so she stood from fussing the dog and held out her hand.
Still feeling slightly vulnerable, she coughed nervously. “I’m Carly Wilson. Welcome to Bear Creek Ranch.”
“I’ve been here before.” Without the glimmer of a smile reaching his lips, he shook her outstretched hand. “Brett Sinclair.”
The moment he mentioned his full name, delivered in that deep baritone voice, the penny finally dropped. Brett Sinclair? Was the uncommunicative stranger the same Brett Sinclair from her childhood? The one she’d had a crush on at Twin Rivers High, along with every other girl on the campus.
No. It couldn’t be. The Brett Sinclair she remembered was never without a smile on his face. Wherever he was, whatever he was doing, a crowd of people would always gather around him. All the boys wanted to be him, and all the girls wanted to be his girlfriend. That Brett Sinclair was the complete package. Achingly good-looking, fun, kind, and with enough sex appeal to make any girl go weak at the knees, including her.
He was also extremely intelligent—a straight A student—and captain of the football team, too. He had everything going for him, and because of his positive demeanor, people of both sexes naturally gravitated toward him. The word charisma could have been invented for him.
Carly looked into the stranger’s eyes again. It is him. I’m sure of it. If it is the same guy, what the hell happened to make him so unhappy in the intervening fifteen years?
The light that had once shone so brightly in his mesmerizing blue eyes was now extinguished and dormant.
“I think we’ve met before, Brett.”
Still without the faintest glimmer of a smile reaching his lips or eyes, he shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“You were a pupil at Twin Rivers High, too, weren’t you?”
“Yeah. So what?”
“Well, so was I, although I was a couple of years below you.”
Those piercing blue irises narrowed on her again, looking her up and down, dismissively taking in her dirty dungarees and work boots. “Can’t say you look familiar.”
Feeling inadequate and unfeminine, she defensively countered, “Probably not. I doubt you even noticed me. I wasn’t one of the cheerleaders way back then. Quite the opposite in fact.”
That was an understatement. During high school she had few friends, and the ones she did have didn’t seem to have any other friends beside her. Looking back she was part of a small group of geeks who were spurned and ridiculed by the beautiful blonde bimbos who were part of the happening scene. Nothing much happened in her life back then. She didn’t even date until she was nineteen.
In school, Brett Sinclair would often push past, oblivious to her presence, a huge smile to his face. He’d be surrounded by laughing, joking friends of both sexes. As a teenager, Carly had worshipped the very ground he walked on, fantasizing about him in bed at night, allowing her fingers to trail over her breasts and between her legs as she thought about them making wild passionate love together. Being just an impressionable kid, she’d had this dream that one day he’d spot her in the crowd. In her adolescent mind, Brett would wave aside all the other girls who were so desperate for his attention and run to her, taking her in his arms, telling her how much he loved her. Of course, she was just a girl way back then, but even now at the age of thirty-three, when the fantasy resurfaced from time to time, it still made her feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
However, while all this was going on, Brett Sinclair was totally oblivious to her to the point that he didn’t even know she existed, didn’t even know her name.
Fast-forward some fifteen years, and that part of the scenario remained the same.
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