Cort Grier is no ordinary rancher. Despite his vast wealth, he still works the land with his own bare hands, unlike his troublesome new neighbor, Mina Michaels. Fiery, beautiful Mina infuriates and entrances Cort, awakening feelings he’d thought long buried. But he knows falling for a city girl can lead only to heartbreak…
Bestselling author Mina hardly expects to meet a man like the ones in her novels. But roguishly handsome Cort is an alpha hero through and through, from his stubborn streak to the fierce way this rugged cowboy protects his heart. When one sizzling kiss leads to another, can Mina convince Cort to open his world to her—now and forever?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Cort Grier was disillusioned with life. He owned a huge Santa Gertrudis breeding stud ranch in West Texas. He was thirty-three now, in his prime, and he wanted to have a family. His father had remarried and moved to Vermont. His brothers, except for the second youngest, were all married with families. He wanted one of his own. But every woman he thought might be the one turned out to be after his money. The last one, a singer, had laughed when he mentioned children. She was in her own prime, she told him, and she had a career as a rising star. No way was she giving that up to live on some smelly ranch in Texas and start having babies. She wasn't certain that she was ever going to want a child.
And so it went. Women had been a permissible pleasure for many years, and while no playboy, he'd had his share of beautiful, cultured lovers. The problem was that after a time, they all looked alike, felt alike, sounded alike. Perhaps, he told himself, he was jaded. Certainly, age hadn't done much for his basically cynical nature. He found more pleasure these days in running the cattle ranch than he did in squiring debutantes around El Paso.
The ranch was a bone of contention with prospective brides. Every one of them enthused about his vast herds of Santa Gertrudis cattle, until they actually saw the ranch and realized that cattle were dusty and smelly. In fact, so were the cowboys who worked with them. One date had actually passed out when she watched one of the hands help pull a calf.
Not one of his dates had liked the idea of living so far from the city, especially around cattle and hay and the noise of ranch equipment. Park Avenue in New York would have suited them very well. Perhaps a few diamonds from Tiffany's and an ensemble from one of the designers who showed their wares during Fashion Week. But cattle? No, they said. Never. Cort had never liked the girl-next-door sort of woman. In fact, there were no girls next door when he was younger. Most of the ranchers around where he lived had sons. Lots of sons. Not one female in the bunch.
The point was, he reminded himself, that the kind of woman who'd like ranch living would most likely be a woman who'd grown up on a ranch. Someone who liked the outdoors and animals and didn't mind the drawbacks. He probably shouldn't have been looking for a bride in the high-rent districts of big cities, he decided. He should have been looking closer to home. If there had been anyone closer to home to look at.
He'd had a brief encounter with a pretty young woman in Georgia, during a visit with Connor Sinclair, a multimillionaire who had a lake house there. The woman's name was Emma, and her zany sense of humor had interested him at once. It was one of the few times he'd been paying attention to what a woman said instead of how she looked. Emma was Connor's personal assistant, but there was more than business there, or he missed his guess. Connor had separated Cort from Emma with surgical precision and made sure there were no more opportunities for him to get to know her. Not too many months later, he heard from his brother Cash Grier, who was a police chief in South Texas, that Connor had married Emma and they had a son. He'd actually thought about going back to North Georgia and courting her, despite her testy boss. That was no longer possible. He balanced Emma against the girls with diamonds in their eyes and greedy hands who'd filed through his life. He'd felt suddenly empty. Alone. The ranch had always been the core of his existence, but it was no longer enough. He was in a rut. He needed to get out.
So Cort had decided that he needed a holiday. He'd called a fourth cousin in Catelow, Wyoming — Bart Riddle — and invited himself to help work around the ranch incognito. He explained the situation to his amused cousin, who told him to come on up. If he wanted to ruin his health digging postholes and chasing cattle, welcome.
He also had another cousin in Carne County, Wyoming — Cody Banks, who was the local sheriff — but Banks lived in town and didn't own a ranch. Cort wanted to get his hands busy. But he had plans to visit with Cody while he was in town.
Bart met him at the airport, an amused smile in his dark eyes as they shook hands. "You own one of the biggest ranches in Texas and you want to come up here and be a cowboy?" Bart asked.
"It's like this," Cort explained on the way out of the airport. "I'm tired of being a walking, talking dollar sign to women."
"Oh, if only I had that problem," Bart sighed. He stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans. "I'm older than you, no pinup boy, I budget like a madman and I'm not housebroken." He chuckled. "I guess I'll live alone with a houseful of dogs and cats until I die."
Cort glanced at him, his suitcase and suit bag in one hand and a carry-on bag in another. "What happened to that local veterinarian you were going around with?"
He made a face. "She moved to Arizona. With her new husband," he added.
Bart shrugged. "Fortunes of war," he said. "I'm giving up on women. Well, not all of them," he added. "I have one who's just a friend. Kind of like a baby sister." He smiled. "She's a writer."
"We have a lot of writers back home," Cort mused. "Hopefuls. Not a published one in the bunch," "This one is very published. Her latest book actually landed on the USA Today bestseller list."
"Not bad. How about the New York Times list?"
He shook his head. "But it's early days yet. She has the talent."
"What does she write?"
Cort made a face. "Drippy, oozy, sugary stuff."
"Not exactly." They reached Bart's big black pickup truck. "Climb aboard. I think it'll get us home. Halfway, anyway."
Cort made a face. "What do you do with this thing, herd cattle?" he asked, noting the dents and scratches.
"It goes all sorts of places. I have another one that looks a little better, but it's in the shop. Had a slight malfunction."
Cort stowed his gear in the boot and climbed in beside his cousin and closed the door. He reached for the seat belt. "What sort of malfunction?"
"It accidentally got slammed in the passenger door with a tire tool."
Cort blinked and stared at his cousin, who flushed. "It what?"
Bart's lips made a thin line as he cranked the truck, put it in gear and peeled out of the airport parking lot. "That's a long story."
"I'll wait with breathless abandon to hear it," Cort replied with a chuckle.
He looked out the window at the passing scenery. Wyoming was a lot greener than Cort's part of Texas, where there was sand and desert and sharp mountain peaks and salt. The ranch was in an area that got a little more rainfall than its surroundings, so at least he had the semblance of good pasture. But Catelow looked as if it had more than its share of rainfall. The pastures they drove by were lush.
"Nice forage," he remarked.
Bart chuckled. "Expensive forage," he corrected.
"We don't get a lot of rainfall here. We depend on snowmelt, and we haven't had as much snow in past years as we'd like. But if you've got enough money, you can pamper your cattle. This guy —" he indicated the ranch they were passing "— has millions. He has ranches here, in Montana, and even a big property in Australia. Name's Jake McGuire."
"I know him," Cort replied. "We met at a cattle convention in Denver about three years ago."
"He's a good guy. Always trying to help people." He sighed. "I guess if you've got enough money, you can have forage and do charitable things as well. I wouldn't know."
Cort's dark eyes smiled. "You do all right," he returned.
Bart shrugged. "Well, I do know ranching. I just can't quite wrap my mind around budgets and billing."
"You need to marry an accountant."
"Oh, chance would be a fine thing."
"You never know."
"I have to stop in town and pick up some supplies on the way home, if you're not in a flaming hurry?" Bart asked.
"Not at all."
"Won't take a minute. I just need a few salt blocks."
"I'll wait in the truck, unless you need help loading them ...?"
Bart shook his head. "The Callisters took over the feed store. McGuire owns it, but they lease and run it. They've got some hefty men who help with the supplies."
"Callisters. The Montana Callisters?" Cort asked.
"The very same. The youngest son, John, married a local girl, Sassy, who used to work in the feed store. They have a son. Gil, John's brother, and his wife and kids still live on the headquarters ranch in Montana."
"That's not a ranch, that's an empire," Cort chuckled.
"It sure is. Not to mention that Gil's wife is the goddaughter of K. C. Kantor."
"The millionaire who made his money as a merc, fighting in wars all over Africa," Cort recalled.
"It's an interesting family. And we're here," he added, pulling up in front of a feed store, just off the main street that ran through Catelow. "I'll be back."
Cort sighed as he looked around. He lived in a smallish community near El Paso, which looked a lot like this except there weren't so many green trees and no giant fir trees like the ones all around town. Lodgepole pines, he recalled from reading about Catelow.
He needed to stretch his long legs. He stuck his creamy Stetson over his black hair and slanted it over one light brown eye as he got out of the truck and walked up onto the sidewalk. He drew the eyes even of older women. He was tall and rangy, but powerfully built with long legs and narrow hips and broad shoulders, a physique that would have looked right at home on a movie lot. He was handsome, too, in a rugged, outdoorsy way. He had a way of looking at a woman that made her feel as if she was the only woman on the planet. And when he wanted to, he could be charming.
He glanced down at the dust and leftover cattle poop on his expensive hand-tooled leather boots. They needed polishing. He'd worn them out into the pasture to look at a sick bull just before he'd left for Catelow. Sloppy, he thought. He should have changed them for something cleaner.
"I never thought we'd have our own shop right here in town," a young woman with blond-streaked brown hair in a tight bun was saying to a slightly taller woman as they came down the sidewalk. "All sorts of exotic yarns, just right for knitting ..."
"Knitting," Cort scoffed.
The plain woman looked up at him with big brown eyes in a pleasant but not really pretty face. She wore no makeup at all. Shame, he thought. She might not look half-bad if she tried to look attractive. Nice mouth, rounded chin, pretty complexion. But she dressed like a bag lady, and that tightly pulled-up hair wasn't at all appealing.
The dark brown eyes were openly glaring at him as their owner looked up, a long way up the rangy, muscular body to the lean, tanned face under the cream-colored cowboy hat. "If I had boots as nasty as yours," she said in a soft but biting tone, "I wouldn't be so insulting about another person's choice of hobbies."
His eyebrows arched. "Do you rock, too?" he asked pleasantly.
She frowned. "Rock?"
"It goes with knitting. Chairs? Rocking chairs?" he taunted.
The glare got worse. "I don't sit in a rocking chair to knit!"
"You can do it standing up?"
The look, added to the suggestive velvety tone, brought a scarlet flush to her cheeks. She started to come back with something even worse when she was interrupted by her name being called.
She turned. Bart came down the sidewalk grinning. "Hey, girl!" he teased.
She laughed. It changed her whole face. She looked much more interesting now to the tall cowboy who'd been insulting her.
"Hi, Bart," she replied. "I haven't seen you since the church picnic!"
"I've been keeping a low profile. You know, so all the women wouldn't embarrass themselves mobbing me."
The brunette beside the one who was talking to Bart laughed.
Bart looked down at her with a smile. "You can laugh," he returned. "I know the men mob you. I've seen them do it, you gorgeous brunette, you."
She laughed again. "Stop that, or I'll tell my husband you're flirting with me."
He held up both hands. "Oh no, please don't," he said at once. "I don't need John Callister looking me up with his shotgun."
"He wouldn't dare," Sassy Callister retorted. "He needs a new breeding bull and he likes the look of yours."
"I noticed." He grinned. "Thank him for his patronage, in advance. Oh, sorry, I forgot to introduce you. This is my cousin from Texas, Cort Grier."
"Nice to meet you," Sassy said with a smile and a nod.
The other woman didn't smile or nod.
"This is Sassy Callister." Bart introduced the brunette. "And this is Mina Michaels," he added, indicating the woman with the glaring brown eyes.
Neither Cort nor Mina spoke. They glared at each other even more.
Bart cleared his throat. "Well, we'd better be getting out to the ranch. Cort's just flown in from Texas and I expect he's in need of some rest."
"All that flapping. Are your arms tired, then?" Mina asked.
He glared at her. "Aren't yours tired from all that knitting?" he drawled back. He gave her a hard look, taking in her lack of makeup and the dowdy dress she wore. "I guess a woman as pitiful looking as you has plenty of time to knit, for lack of a social life."
She stomped on his booted toe as hard as she could.
He cursed and glared harder.
"That's assault," she said helpfully, dripping sarcasm. "I'll go turn myself in to the police right now!"
Cort opened his mouth to reply and his expression indicated that it was going to be something toxic.
Bart, who knew his cousin's temper very well, caught him by the arm and almost dragged him around. "We have to go now. See you later!"
"You shouldn't have saved her," Cort muttered as they got back to Bart's pickup truck. His high cheek bones were ruddy with temper. "What a damned, unpleasant, ugly woman! I should have had her arrested for assault. Wouldn't that have wiped that smirk off her face?" he added. His foot was a little sore. She'd been wearing boots, too, he recalled suddenly. Odd, for a city woman to have them on. Maybe they were in style. On the other hand, what would such an unattractive woman care about style?
"Now, now, she's not so bad ..."
"I'd rather we never spoke of her again," he interrupted, and gave his cousin a look that said he meant it. "The other woman, the nice one," he emphasized, "she's married to John Callister, you said?"
Bart wanted to tell him about Mina, about her past, but he realized he'd get nowhere. At least not right now. "Yes. Sassy's well-known here in the community. Her mother had cancer, but John got her treated and she continues to thrive. The family adopted a little girl who'd worked for an employee who died, and she lives with her adoptive mother as well. They're a fine family."
"Mrs. Callister seemed pleasant."
"She is. And Mina ..."
"Please," Cort interrupted. He drew in a breath. "That's about all the unpleasantness I can manage for one day. And the damned woman knits, can you believe it? I wonder if she knows which century this is?"
Bart held his tongue. He could have answered that remark, but it was just as well to save it for later. "How about a nice cup of strong black coffee?" he asked instead.
"That sounds good."
Bart grinned. "I splurged on a pound of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee." He glanced at his cousin, who was grinning from ear to ear. "Yeah, I know," he added on a chuckle. "It's your favorite."
"And you just became my most favorite cousin," Cort returned with a laugh.
"No surprise," came the drawling reply.
They sat around the small kitchen table nibbling on a pizza they'd picked up on the way home and drinking the delicious coffee Bart had fixed for them.
"This is really nice," Cort said, glancing around at the modern, clean kitchen with its blue curtains and appliances.
"I love to cook," the other man said. "So I've got pretty much every device known to the culinary arts."
"I can't boil water," Cort sighed. "There was a notable surplus of women in our lives after our father kicked our model stepmother out the back door."
"I remember," Bart said. He shook his head. "Amazing that a man as smart as your father could let a woman like that take him over lock, stock and barrel."
"I guess love can be pretty inconvenient." He fingered the coffee cup. "Our father alienated my brother Cash, so badly that even after our stepmother left, Cash wouldn't speak to him. He wouldn't speak to Garon or Parker or me, either, because we sided with the mercenary woman." He shifted in the chair. "We live and learn. Garon went up to Jacobsville, where Cash is police chief, and made peace with him. The rest of us followed. We're still wary of each other, but we're making progress."
"Cash is a legend in law enforcement," Bart pointed out. "Ask our cousin Cody Banks." He laughed. "Cash was even a Texas Ranger for a while, until he slugged the acting officer in charge."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Wyoming Heart"
Copyright © 2019 Diana Palmer.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.