A Cowboy's Strength

By: Vicki Lewis Thompson

(The McGavin Brothers #1)


Chapter One





Zane McGavin made the drive back from Bozeman in high spirits. Releasing a bird of prey into the wild after a successful rehabilitation was almost better than sex. Then again, he hadn’t had sex in a while so he might not be qualified to make that statement.

He’d been so busy with ranch work and the raptors in his care that he hadn’t dated in months. Might even be close to a year, now. He’d reached that awkward stage of being too old for casual hookups and too young – at least in his opinion – to settle down.

Maybe if the right woman came along…

She’d have to like the idea of living in Montana, though. He was rooted in this place and he…damn, there was some idiot changing a tire right next to the road. They could get run over.

Passing carefully, he drove onto the shoulder several yards in front of the vehicle. His truck’s tires ground through slush and gravel that might cause trouble for a little sedan like that one. Maybe the driver had been afraid of getting stuck. At least the car was bright red, which made it stand out.

Zane tucked his gloves in the pocket of his sheepskin jacket before climbing out. When he turned to face the disabled vehicle, he discovered the driver standing in front of the car. The belted wool coat, long hair and girly city boots told him he’d come to the aid of a lady in distress. She held a tire iron in one hand and a phone in the other as she watched him approach. Most folks around here were law-abiding, but she might not know that.

“Ma’am, I’m here to help.” He held up both hands, palms out. “If you don’t want me to come any closer, I’ll stay put. But please call a garage to come out and change that tire for you. If you don’t have a number to call, I can give you one. It’s mighty dangerous for you to be working right next to the road like that.”

She went very still. “Zane?”

“Yes, ma’am, that’s my name, but I don’t believe I…” Then it hit him. Her hair was cut different and her coat and boots weren’t the style she used to wear. But he knew that voice and now that he’d moved a little closer, he knew that face, too. He’d been looking at it off and on between the ages of three and seventeen, although she hadn’t been a part of his life for years. Ten, to be exact.

Maybe she’d lost her country smarts while living in the big city. “Mandy Fielding, are you fixing to get yourself killed?”

“I was afraid I’d get stuck if I pulled off any more.”

“Then why not call roadside assistance?” Thinking some stranger had been risking life and limb by the side of the road had been bad enough. Discovering Mandy had put herself in that position was making him crazy.

“Takes too long. My plane was late and Mom started her vacation this afternoon so she could be home when I arrived. This should’ve saved time.”

“How long have you been at this?”

She made a face. “A while. The lug nuts are on super tight.”

“Probably some mechanic in Bozeman got over-zealous with the power equipment.” Thank God he’d happened along. Gradually the fact registered that he was standing here having a conversation with Mandy after ten years.

Their last face-to-face hadn’t been great, near as he could remember. He must have ticked her off pretty bad since she hadn’t tried to contact him any of the times she’d come to visit her mom over the years. She hadn’t changed a whole lot since he’d last seen her, though – same hazel eyes that could look green or gold depending on her mood, same shiny, caramel colored hair. She didn’t seem much older, just more sophisticated.

He’d missed her, but that was neither here nor there. She’d obviously come home to help sort through stuff since her mom was selling the house and property that bordered Wild Creek Ranch. Contacting him wouldn’t have been part of the plan on this visit, either. He took a deep breath. “I’ll get started on that tire.”

“Zane, I don’t expect you to change it for me.”

“Why not?”

“Because I – look, I was rude when you invited me and Mom to the graduation party. I never apologized.”

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