Cowboy to Her Rescue

Cowboy to Her Rescue

Pam Mantovani

May 2021 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-998-8

Once betrayed, twice shy. . .

Our PriceUS$14.95
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Once betrayed, twice shy. . .

When a young soldier home on leave rescued Sydney Bishop from attackers, he also stole her heart. But, when he returned to active duty without saying goodbye, she was shattered.

Now years later, fate--and a little matchmaking--has brought them together again.

As a way of overcoming his own wartime nightmares, Ryland built a ranching retreat in Montana. His goal? To give traumatized military families a place to heal. But the ranch desperately needs funding. Luckily, help comes through, in the form of Sydney’s mother, who’s kept tabs on her daughter’s first love over the years. Her foundation is more than willing to give him the cash he needs, but there’s a catch.

And if Sydney finds out, she might never think of Ryland as her hero again. . .

Author Bio: An author of passionate, emotional romances with heart, Pam loves crafting stories about independent women and men who discover the thrill and joy of falling in love. After years of moving as both an Army brat and corporate wife, Pam and her craftsman husband settled in Atlanta, close to family and friends. When not writing, Pam enjoys quilting, planting beautiful flowers, home improvement projects and spending time with her wonderful family.


Of Cowboy on Her Doorstep:

"A great romance story, full of emotion and real-life characters who steal your heart from the first page.” —bestselling author Rita Herron

"If you love second chance books this is for you. I can not wait for the next book from Pam Mantovani. Keep them coming, Pam!!” —Goodreads reviewer, Melissa Morr

"This is the first book I’ve read by Pam and it definitely won’t be the last.” —Goodreads reviewer, Christina Reed

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Chapter One

WRESTLING WITH his conscience, Ryland Evans scanned the western Montana sky. The summer sun had a light sheen of sweat pooling beneath his cowboy hat. At least he told himself it was due to the warm day, but the lie fell flat.

God knew he had enough experience suffering through lies. They began as early as he could remember, every time his mother answered his question about when his father was coming home. Soon, she’d said. In all of his nearly thirty-one years, Ryland had never set eyes on the man. Hell, he didn’t even know his name. As he’d grown older, his mother’s lies became a part of his life. A part he’d perfected for his own purposes when necessary. Removing his hat, he scraped a hand through hair, grown long since re-locating to Montana.

When he joined the army, he learned there were an endless variety and reasons for lies. Direct orders headed the list, followed closely by the politics of command and secret missions that required keeping emotions, as well as information, tucked away. Then, all too often, he and his platoon had been told their patrols were for the mission of defending civilians.

His last patrol, one they’d thought was for the purpose of finding civilians in need of medical care, had required he kill a girl before she could cut down half of his platoon. She’d nearly succeeded. He’d considered her far too young and innocent- looking to mean them harm. Then, he’d looked closer and seen the hatred in her eyes. His hesitation had nearly cost the lives of members of his squad. But the memory of that young girl dropping to the ground, a single bullet in the forehead, haunted his sleep to this day.

He flung his hat like a frisbee, watching it fly and hit the ground before he pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes—a motion that did nothing to ease the gut-sinking emotion of that day.

"Damn it,” he said. "Not now. Not now,” he repeated, making himself say the words low and slow rather than scream away the pounding of his temples.

There were times when it felt as if the hatred he’d faced that day, the hatred he’d eliminated with a single shot, had somehow infected him. After that day, he’d been ruthless whenever he’d been sent out on a scouting mission, never taking any situation at face value. All too often, he’d shot first. And he’d soon realized that he needed to leave the military, the one place where he’d felt accepted, if he was to maintain his sanity.

Since coming to Montana and building the ranch, he’d managed to keep the nightmares at bay more often than not.

"Of course, today would be the exception,” he muttered, walking over to snatch up his hat and circling the truck to regain his focus.

For the first time in his life, he had a home and friends who were more than passing acquaintances. They’d helped him find a measure of peace and contentment. He’d established this ranch to help other military veterans and their families find a way to get past old wounds, emotional and physical. He wanted to help them accept that they deserved a happy future when so many of their friends, and enemies, would have none.

Unlike similar retreats, he’d insisted on being more than a paper-pushing owner and manager. He guided hiking trips with the guests, rode horseback with other guests on a cattle drive, and often lent a shoulder to an individual who needed to unload in private. So far, he’d managed to avoid sitting in on group discussions. He understood some people needed to air their traumas as a way of dealing with them, but he believed he was better off keeping his to himself.

In some extreme cases, he’d even called on the help of a psychologist connected to the local women’s shelter. Among other successes, she’d guided one marriage into being saved and prevented one suicide—of a Navy spouse. Ryland had hoped to obtain funding for a full-time therapist, but so far, his grant applications had been denied.

He’d secured the initial funding for the ranch with the backing of a senator, a former Navy pilot, who’d seen not only the benefit of his program, but how the ranch would enhance the economy of Burton Springs. Unfortunately, she’d lost her reelection bid and her replacement had refused to consider any additional funding requests.

He lifted his face to the sky, seeing the plane come into view. "God, I hope I haven’t made a mistake.”

He’d consented to an online interview, hoping to acquire funding from another source. But never in his wildest dreams had he expected that funding to come from Diana Bishop—the mother of a young girl he’d once rescued from a dangerous situation when he’d been in Boston on leave.

A girl he’d never forgotten. A girl who had once offered him love, along with her innocence. "Sydney,” he said in a low murmur as he watched the Bishop family private plane land and taxi to a stop.

The Bishop family had been an integral part of Boston forever. More than a hundred years ago, the first Patrick Bishop, grateful to his new country and the wealth, success, and family it had provided him, had formed the Bishop Family Foundation. He’d wanted each generation after him to fulfill his pledge, showing gratitude by granting funds to worthwhile endeavors and organizations. Diana Bishop, worried about her daughter’s health, had called to offer him one of those grants.

But there was a catch. He just had to lie to Sydney. A girl who’d once told him she thought him to be the most honorable man she knew.

When the plane’s engines died, he stepped forward. He’d thought he’d been prepared to see her again, but he stopped cold when she appeared in the open doorway.

His breath caught in his throat, in part, because this meeting was so damn important. But he reluctantly admitted he was nervous about seeing her again. And this jittery beat of his blood, not to mention the unwelcomed swelling of his groin, had little to nothing to do with her being here to give him grant money.

Sydney Bishop had grown up.

SYDNEY HESITATED at the top of the steps the pilot had unfolded. Standing beside a large truck was Ryland Evans. She’d believed she’d grown up, that she was no longer that young girl who’d given her heart and body to someone for the first time.

But the way her heart ached now proved she wasn’t as grown up as she’d hoped.

She continued down the steps, walking toward her first love. Today he’d see a decisive, professional woman, not the frightened teenager she’d been, burrowing into his embrace for safety and comfort. The pain of his leaving so abruptly a short week later had never really evaporated, but she refused to be that vulnerable young woman again.

Still, on legs that trembled, she crossed the field to him.

"Ryland.” Stopping a defined distance away, she offered a hand rather than the hug she used to greet him with. As soon as their hands clasped, she slipped hers free and took a small step backward. It took all her resolve and concentration to look him in the eye. "Look at you. You’ve traded your army uniform for a cowboy hat.” And wasn’t it just her bad luck that he looked so damned good in it.

"Hello, Sydney. It’s good to see you again.”

He removed his hat, revealing hair several shades of darker brown than her own, curling just a little over his ear. Once it had been short enough to bristle her palm when she stroked his head. Her gaze traveled past a flat stomach, over denim-encased thigh muscle and further down to cowboy boots, scuffed but clean.

It annoyed her that she felt an echo of the zip of the attraction she’d felt at their first meeting that night, so long ago, when he’d become a hero to her. She slipped a hand inside the pocket of her skirt, then took it out again.

"I was surprised when Mom told me she’d been in touch with you.” Surprised yet again when her mother had asked her to make this follow-up trip for the grant proposal. Diana Bishop was all too familiar with how heartbroken Sydney had been when Ryland had left Boston all those years ago.

"You’ve been back four years now,” she said.

"Sydney, I couldn’t call...”

"Because you were busy setting up your ranch.” She managed a smile. "From the proposal I was shown, you’ve accomplished quite a bit. As I’m sure Mother explained, I’m here to get an overview and make whatever recommendations I believe will help put the funding to the best use.”

"Let me,” Ryland said, easing the bag from her shoulder when she shifted to adjust it. Ruthlessly, she subdued a shiver at his light touch. "You look tired, Sydney. I’m sorry if coming here today meant you had to be awake early.”

"Most of my days begin early.”

"Even weekends?”

She blinked up at him as they stopped beside his truck. Exhaustion tended to disorient her these days. Her fingers closed tight and relaxed in a rhythmic pattern on the strap of her bag.

In the past six months, she’d sleepwalked more often than she’d managed a night of undisturbed sleep. Until recently, she’d been able to return to her room before anyone discovered her. Six weeks earlier, however, her mother found her slumped behind the steering wheel of the car she’d driven into a ditch on their estate’s grounds. That was yet another reason to be suspicious about the reason she’d been sent here. At least she only had to spend a few hours in Ryland’s company. She wasn’t sure she could take much more.

"That’s right, today is Saturday. I’d forgotten.” She laughed.

He opened the truck door, gave her a hand to help boost her onto the seat. When he set her bag in the footwell, his hand grazed her calf. "Sorry,” he murmured when she jerked in surprise, then closed the door and rounded the hood before settling behind the steering wheel.

Shutting her eyes, she recalled the thrill of having his hand on her bared breast for the first time.

"How’s the family?” he asked. "Do you still get together for Sunday dinner?”

Excellent. Small talk about her family would drive down the attraction that had resurfaced the moment she’d laid eyes on him.

"Yes, although schedules aren’t as easy to coordinate these days, not with all the nieces and nephews running around. When we manage to all be together, we total fifteen now.”

"Table’s getting crowded.” He ran a hand up and down the length of his thigh. "Anyone you’re thinking of making room for?”

Pulling papers from her bag, she paused at his question. With so much of her time committed to her determination to succeed, she couldn’t recall when she last had a date that wasn’t business-related.

"Not at this time,” she said. "And yourself?” she made herself ask, though she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear the answer. "Anyone special in your life?”

"Not in a long time.”

She jerked her head around, discovered him studying her. His eyes, the darkest brown she’d ever seen, looked into hers in the same unflinching way they had the night they’d met.

That night, in his uniform, he’d looked like a warrior. He had been a warrior, one who’d rescued her from real danger. When he’d walked toward her that night, she’d seen his elemental need to be accepted. So when he drew her into his arms, she’d gone without fear into his protective embrace.

It had been an immediate bond; one she’d believed they would have forever.

She knew better now.

Only the way he looked at her, tempted her to believe that somehow, through time, distance, and heartache, the bond remained alive. She wanted to cry that he had no right to remind her of that time. He had no right to look at her as if he regretted the time they’d lost when he’d been the one to leave without saying good-bye. Instead, she vowed to do her job as quickly as possible and return home.

Maybe her mother had been right to send her here today. Seeing Ryland, working with him for a couple of hours, could be the closure she so desperately needed for that chapter of her life.

"Speaking of time,” she said, turning from his gaze. She tapped the end of a pencil against the papers on her lap. "We should go straight to the ranch so I have time to look over everything.”

He nodded, then started the engine and drove. Outside, the vast landscape stretched out before them. Green meadows and clusters of blooming wildflowers extended as far as she could see. With the windows down, the soft breeze swept over her face, bringing not only blessed cool air but many scents and sounds, too—the sharp tang of pine, chirping birds, rustling leaves. In the distance a lake reflected the mountains guarding its shore. And above it all, an incredible expanse of blue sky looked on.

The view should have left her feeling small and insignificant. Instead, she absorbed the majesty, soaked up the excitement of anything being possible.

"I guess you do this kind of thing often,” Ryland said. "I mean, travel to check out the projects requesting funding.”

"It depends.” She continued staring at the scenery and avoiding his gaze. Focusing on the business they had between them would keep her emotions out of the equation. "Everyone in the family has their own projects.”

"What’s been your favorite so far?”

"We don’t get many requests from overseas and when we do, I’m too low a rung on the ladder to be assigned those plum projects.” Her lips curved. "But I had a college friend who works in international banking and lives in Paris. He’s also a sucker for animals so he contacted me directly, the way you did with Mom, about funding for a new rescue program he was trying to get off the ground.” She opened and closed her hand into a fist as she recalled that was the last vacation she’d had in over a year. "I extended the stay and spent a lovely three days sightseeing, shopping, and drinking wine at outdoor cafes.”

"Sounds a lot more pleasant than any of the things I did overseas.”

His words were a harsh reminder that his life had been vastly different than hers. While she’d been in school and working, he’d been defending the country, putting his life on the line every day. As awful as his leaving her had hurt, she’d always prayed for his safe return. Even if he wasn’t returning to her. Grateful, she touched his hand. "I’m glad you came back unharmed, Ryland.”

"Everyone who goes to war comes back with some kind of damage.”

"I understand.”

"You can’t possibly understand.”

She bristled at his tone, at the implication that she couldn’t comprehend what he’d lived through. Then again, who outside of the military could? In her research about the ranch, she’d read countless comments from family members who’d expressed distress over not being able to ease their loved ones’ nightmares.

Still, because she hadn’t lived through the horror of war didn’t mean she couldn’t empathize with someone who had. Hadn’t she been told not to become so emotionally invested in her projects? One of the doctors her mother had begged her to consult had speculated her sleep difficulty could be a consequence of that type of deep involvement.

And yet, her last relationship ended because Greg accused her of holding back from a commitment.

"I understand this ranch is important to you.”

The fact that he’d taken his experiences and created something positive out of them stirred emotions deep inside her. The rescuer in him, the honor he carried himself with, still called to her.

Knowing she was susceptible to him on a basic level, she’d have to try very hard to not allow her admiration to dominate her feelings. She might only be here a few hours, but it had taken little more than that, years earlier, for her to fall for him. She needed to concentrate on the business at hand.

No matter how much time she spent working with him, to become emotionally invested in this project, in him, could end in disaster.

He steered the truck around a curve in the road and braked to a stop. Stretching high across the road was an iron sign proclaiming they had arrived at Evergreen Ranch. Nestled within a wide valley, like a sleeping baby in its mother’s arms, Sydney saw what she guessed would be called a compound. Her city eyes spotted the corral and barn set a distance away from the other buildings. She identified the large rectangular building in the center of the clearing as the cookhouse/social center she’d read about on the flight to Montana. Along one edge of the grassy area were four cabins, close enough to each other for socializing, far enough away for privacy. She liked the covered porch fronting each one, imagined sitting out in the evening with a cool glass of wine, enjoying the fresh air. And enjoying the company of someone.

"It’s a peaceful setting,” she said. "I’m sure that’s one of the appeals to coming here.”

"I like to think so.”

He cut the engine, then stepped out of the truck. Sydney hesitated a moment, studying him as he stood in the sunshine, hands shoved into his back pockets, looking over the land. She couldn’t recall anyone looking as alone as Ryland did at that moment. Opening her door, she walked over to stand beside him.

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