Read an Excerpt
The Right Ranger
The Men of at Ease Ranch
By Donna Michaels, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Donna Michaels
All rights reserved.
Hell must've frozen over.
Why else would she call? Zombie apocalypse? Storm damage from last week's tornado rampage? Something major had to happen for her to pick up the phone.
Cord Brannigan cut the engine to his truck in front of the tenacious woman's ranch and sat back to contemplate the irony of the situation. The very woman who put the I in independent had actually reached out for help on Independence Day.
His lips twitched into a rare grin. Probably pissed about it, too.
One thing was certain — she had to be desperate in order to call him, because Haley Wagner was as stubborn as she was beautiful.
He straightened in his seat. Thoughts like that led to nothing but trouble.
Haley was the widow of one of his Army Ranger buddies. Off-limits. A line he was never willing to cross, even in the two and a half years since his buddy's death.
Cord had ignored his attraction to the pretty brunette the whole time he'd served with Drew. He'd been unsuccessfully attending to Drew's wounds when his buddy had asked him to keep an eye on Haley.
"Tell her I love her. And I'm sorry. She deserved so much better. I need you to help her out. Keep an eye on her. Promise me, man. I need you to promise me you'll watch over her."
He'd promised, then Drew had let out a relieved breath ... and died.
Shaking his head to clear the dark image from his mind, he stared out at the quiet ranch. Ever since he'd resigned his commission and left the military, Cord had done his best to fulfill his promise to Drew. Over the past two years, he came when Haley called, which wasn't often. And though he and the guys had tried to get her to visit At-Ease a few times, she'd always politely declined. It was as if she needed to put distance between them and the other veterans living on the ranch in order to get on with her life. Understandable. They respected her wishes as much as possible. He still had his promise to keep to Drew, though. That would never change. He gave his word. His word was gold ... unlike other's he'd known.
Discontent rippled through Cord's gut. He shifted in his seat with a muffled curse. That shit was in the past, and he was here to help Haley. She was a good person. Reliable. Honest. Maybe a little mouthy. His lips twitched. He kind of liked her sarcasm. But, without knowing it, she had the right idea. Given their unacknowledged attraction, distance was a good thing. He'd do well to remember that, especially considering he didn't know how the hell long he was here. Or why.
Cord scanned the large rambling one-story ranch and found nothing amiss. Two years ago, he and the guys had repaired and re-shingled the roof. Last spring, they'd shored up the long front porch, and last fall, he'd addressed a minor plumbing issue. The house wasn't the reason he was summoned. Had to be something else. He transferred his gaze across the driveway. There were two large barns, one old, and one ... new? With an indoor arena attached?
Was that why was he there?
The answer would hopefully be forthcoming since the old barn door opened and Haley appeared with her arms full of blankets piled so high the woman could barely see over them. And now, with her view obstructed, she was heading right for a tractor left out in the yard.
Cord was out of the truck and sprinting toward her in a shot, concern ripping through his gut. "Haley ... watch out!"
He made it in front of her just in time for her to plow into him instead of the tractor.
Several blankets fell at their feet, while a few others were squished between them as he banded his arms around her tight to keep them both from falling.
"Cord! Where in the world did you come from? Thin air? Another dimension?" She drew back and shook her head, her ponytail swishing while the brown gaze that teased his dreams in the long hours of the night sparked with annoyance. "I didn't hear you pull up."
"I can tell."
"Gee, what gave it away?" She snorted. "The fact I was minding my own business before you blindsided me? Or because I nearly mowed you over?" she asked as she retrieved her lost blankets. "Your Ranger nickname should've been Ninja. Or Stealth Bomber."
He thought about pointing out that if he hadn't appeared, she would've been sporting a few injuries from her imminent collision with the tractor behind him, but he kept his mouth shut and swiped the last two blankets from the ground by his feet.
"I appreciate you coming," she said, looking a little more harried than he'd expected.
She was a strong, capable woman with a wicked sense of humor and a killer smile ... which had been MIA the past two years.
Ever since Drew had died.
His gut twisted.
He straightened with the blankets under his arm. "What's going on here?"
The place seemed deserted. No ranch hands or livestock. Just two brand new buildings and an old one in need of repair.
And weeds. A shit-ton of weeds.
It wasn't like her ranch hand Pete to let the place go like this. The old timer's truck was parked near his cabin in the distance, but there was no movement there, either.
"Come in the house and I'll tell you about it over something cold. I'm thirsty," she said, walking around him, and nearly smacked the tractor anyway. She stiffened and turned to face him, color flooding her cheeks ... and she smiled.
God, she had the greatest smile. It warmed her brown eyes to the color of perfectly aged whiskey. Both exquisite. Two things he hadn't had the privilege of enjoying in years.
"That's why you ran into me," she said, nodding toward the tractor. "I'm sorry for biting your head off. Very ungracious of me. Thanks for the quick save."
Technically she ran into him, but he was never one to cast stones. Besides, his mind was still in the stupor realm from her damn smile, and now she was being nice and apologizing. What the hell was he supposed to do with that?
The one and only time he'd given himself permission to react to a pretty girl with a pretty smile had ended in disaster, so from then on he'd kept things simple and physical.
Clearing his throat, he lifted a shoulder and nodded. "You're welcome."
As soon as he uttered them, Cord realized it had been years since he'd spoken those words. Why? he wondered with a start. They were simple, common courtesy words.
Christ. When the hell had he turned into a damn ogre?
And as he followed his host up to the house, he tried to concentrate on that thought and not how well Haley's jeans fit her sweet ass, or the fact her tank top was riding up to expose a smooth expanse of skin.
Did it feel as soft as it looked?
"It does," she was saying, bringing his attention back to the conversation. "I know. But, I'll get to it. It's on my to-do list."
Since his mind had been on her body and not her words, he had no idea what she was adding to her list. He'd figure that out later. He stepped out onto the porch and reached around her to open the door, but he didn't get out of the way quick enough to avoid the brush of her curves as she passed.
The current he felt zipping in the air around them solidified in that split second, and a heated energy shot through his whole body, waking every single muscle at once.
Even the long dormant one.
"Thank you," she said, her voice a little breathless.
That dormant muscle reacted to the soft sound as if stroked.
Not trusting his voice, he nodded then followed her into the blessedly cool air-conditioned house her uncle had left her after he passed away.
She's changed since she inherited the ranch. Drew's words echoed in Cord's head.
He wasn't sure if it was the ranch or his buddy's passing, but Haley was different now. The funny, vivacious force of nature he remembered meeting for the first time when Drew had introduced his wife to the team four years ago was but a memory. Life happened. He got that. Hell, he was certainly not the same guy he'd been back then, either. Shit happened. Then more shit. And although he prided himself on rolling with the punches, he wasn't sure he had the ability to block much more.
It'd been one of the reasons he'd decided to retire from the Army. He always heard a soldier knew when to retire. Well, he'd known. So had the rest of the team.
What was left of them.
"You can just place the blankets on the chair," Haley told him, setting her armful down. "I'll get them in the wash after I show you your room, and we'll have a drink."
He'd packed an overnight bag when she'd called a few hours ago, but something in her tone just now made it sound as if his help was needed a little longer. A mystery he hadn't been able to solve by the time she'd shown him his room and they returned to the open concept kitchen for that drink.
"I appreciate you coming on such short notice." She set an iced tea in front of him before sitting down with a glass of lemonade.
Even though it had been years since they'd sat down together she still remembered his drink preference. Despite his efforts to block the warm feeling spreading through his chest, Cord tried to ignore it. He came there to work. Not socialize. Or connect with her.
"Where's Pete? The place is a mess." Damn, that came out gruff.
He could tell it didn't go unnoticed by the way Haley's back stiffened and what little bit of civility that'd been present in her gaze had frosted over.
"I'm doing the best I can."
Christ, he had shit for brains. The few cells that remained. Damn woman messed with his mind whenever she was near. He thought he'd had a handle on it, but she was single now and that made her dangerous, and his body was ignoring the off-limits warning from his head.
* * *
Haley Wagner tried to hold onto her smile, but the sexy jerk had to ruin it.
Leave it to her late husband's friend to spark life into her body only to suck it away the second he opened his sexy damn mouth.
That was so like Cord. The rare times he'd been to the ranch since he'd retired, she either wanted to punch him, or press him against a damn wall to kiss him until they were both ready to pass out from lack of oxygen.
She opted for neither.
If she hadn't needed his help so damn bad, she would've shared her drink with his face. But that was childish, and a waste of good homemade lemonade. Took her ten minutes to hand squeeze the lemons, and the damn juice burned the small cuts on her fingers from cleaning out the barn.
No sense in suffering through all of that to waste the efforts on his face. Besides, she'd have to clean up the floor, so it'd only create more work for her. That would be dumb. And she wasn't dumb.
Neither was he.
Haley had no idea what it was about Cord Brannigan, but he always got her hackles up. She'd hoped a few years away from the military would've mellowed the guy.
The tightlipped, stern-faced, lean-bodied Texan appeared even harder now, both in body and demeanor. And, dammit, if it didn't up his allure. The body she could appreciate; her good parts were already on alert. The lack of manners, not so much. Regardless of his temperament, though, those gorgeous green eyes of his mesmerized and pulled her in, made her want things she had no business wanting.
Besides, who's to say she'd hold his interest, anyway? He was a virile man like Drew, and she hadn't held his.
"Sorry." He blew out a breath and ran a hand through his hair, having the good grace to appear contrite. "I didn't mean it like it sounded. Pete's meticulous. So something must've happened to him."
Observant as ever. "Warlock," as the team called him, had powers of deduction that couldn't be faulted. She'd give him that. Cord always had the ability to size up a situation — or a person — with just one glance. It was the main reason she'd avoided the guys and their ranch, despite their many invites. Not that she wasn't interested or proud of their efforts to create a place for veterans to transition into society, she just felt a damn attraction to Cord she did not want or need. And she sure as hell didn't need him to catch on, as he undoubtedly would if they were in each other's orbit for too long.
But she needed help, and the guy had made her promise to call if she did, so she called. He arrived three hours later.
"Pete fell off the barn roof and broke his leg," she replied with a shudder, remembering the accident vividly. Thank God that was all he'd broken. It could've been a lot worse.
"Jesus." Cord's head snapped back. "Is he all right? Pete has to be pushing seventy."
A smile tugged her lips despite the solemnness of the conversation. Damn man was too astute. "Pete turns seventy in September. And yes, he's okay. Pissed off because he can't do anything around here — not that he doesn't try." She had her hands full preventing her friend from complicating his injury further. "Thankfully, his sister is driving down from Dallas tomorrow to take him back home with her for a few weeks."
He nodded. "Too tempting for him to do something foolish if he stayed."
"Exactly." Her insides fluttered. It was weird. His words had felt like a premonition for the two of them.
"So, where is everyone?"
She sipped her lemonade and shrugged. "I let them go."
"Go?" His gaze narrowed. "Why?"
"Couldn't afford them or the cattle," she replied, ready with a retort if he made a rash comment about her being stupid.
She knew she was. Didn't need him to tell her. She was well aware of her shortcomings. It was her fault the ranch failed. She'd been too trusting. Too blind. Tenacity rushed through her veins and stiffened her backbone. Well, not anymore.
Not ever again.
"So, why did you build a new barn and arena?"
Curiosity filled his gorgeous green gaze, without any signs of condemnation.
She regarded him closely. "I'm turning this place into a horse boarding ranch."
His chin lifted while his gaze continued to bore deep. Then he nodded. "Seems feasible. You have the space, and there isn't one in this area, to my knowledge."
"There isn't." She'd checked into that and all aspects of the venture over the past year. "I sold off the cattle and put up the new buildings. Now, I need to finish fixing the old barn, build an outdoor arena and two more corrals."
His brows rose. "And you need this done when?" The sooner the better. Money was tight. "Three weeks."
He muttered an oath before drinking his tea.
"Look, I don't expect you to stay here that long," she rushed to say, and her chest squeezed tight. "I know you have your own ranch to run and business to operate. As a matter of fact, I didn't expect you to rush here so soon. I feel bad drawing you away from all that."
He set his glass down and shrugged. "The guys can handle the slack, so don't sweat it."
"Then what was the cursing for?" Damn man was so hard to read.
"The tight timeframe," he replied. "Is there a reason it's so short?"
She nodded. "Word has gotten out and I've already been approached by a few key people in the county to board their horses. I don't want them looking elsewhere, so when they asked if I'd be ready by August, of course I said yes. My lawyer is taking care of the licensing and permits." But there was still so much to do. She expelled a breath, willing the stars to align in her favor this time.
"I'll make it happen." His gaze almost warmed. "Don't worry."
Just when she had him shoved in that "jerk" category, he went and said something sweet. She cleared her throat and nodded because he seemed to be waiting for her reaction. "Thanks. I appreciate any time you can give me."
"You hiring the people who did the new buildings?" Her laughter echoed between them, sounding hollow even to her ears. It was laughable how he thought she had money. Not that she blamed him. She was a war widow, so of course, he'd naturally assume she was beneficiary to her husband's death benefits.
She was not.
Not solely, anyway.
And she was certainly not going to talk to him about it. So, she answered as truthful as possible. "No. It's just you and me. But I do have people scheduled to build the outdoor arena once we get the fences up."
He finished the remainder of his drink in one gulp then set his glass down on the table with a thud. "I can stay 'til August if you need me. Why don't we go outside so you can walk me through your plans?" Good idea. Sitting here, making normal conversation, was having an adverse effect on her body and mind, causing her to consider he was almost human.
Living under the same roof was bad enough when they were barely civil, but if they were actually friendly?
That was way too dangerous a concept.
Excerpted from The Right Ranger by Donna Michaels, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2017 Donna Michaels. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Really enjoyed this short book! Cord and Haley went through a number of interesting things the first being Haley was the widow of one of Cord's Army buddies. So worth reading! Will try more of this series!
4 stars I purchased a copy of the novella The Men At- Ease Ranch Series book 3 : The Right Army Ranger by Donna Michaels and this review was given freely. Cord and Haley's romance is a well balance steamy romance containing conflict, the seamless integration of all the series characters,humor and a happy ending.
Can’t wait to read the next book!
If profanity does not bother you, the reader, I am sure you will enjoy this book. I would have rated it 5-stars if not for all the profanity and would have rated it 4-1/2 stars if half stars were offered. The story is different from most in that former Army Ranger Cord Brannigan promised his dying buddy on the battle field that he would honor his buddy’s last request. The buddy asked that Cord watch over his wife, Haley Wagner, when Cord returned stateside and tell her he loved her and he was sorry. Cord’s promise was a difficult one because he had guilt that he could not save his buddy’s life and Cord himself had secretly liked Haley but would never cross the line. Now, that his buddy was gone he knew he could never show his feelings to the grieving widow. He did contact her and offered help on her ranch but she refused saying when and if she needed his help she would contact him. The day he received word from Haley that she needed his help and needed it ASAP he knew something major had happened for her to have asked for his help and he did not have any choice but to go to her.
I have been waiting for Cord and Haley's story for a while and even though it wasn't smooth sailing for them it was a great ride. Cord had always felt an attraction towards Haley, but even though she's been a widow for over two years neither one will act on their attraction out of a sense of Honor and the secrets they both held about her late husband who was a friend and fellow Army Ranger of Cord's. If you have read any of the other books in the series you will know a little bit about Cord, but there is oh so much more to know, The Right Ranger takes us on the journey into Cord's past and answers some major questions I had about him including why he always had his guard up. The chemistry between Haley and Cord was phenomenal. I didn't see how Cord thought he would be able to live under the same roof as Haley for three weeks and not act on their attraction, but I would give him a A just for trying ;) **I voluntarily reviewed an Advanced Readers Copy of this book**
4 stars The Right Ranger by Donna Michaels was very enjoyable read. I enjoyed the storyline, it was one of those reads that once you started reading you couldn't put it down. I found myself saying just one more chapter a lot lol Haley and Cord were likable, endearing characters that warmed my heart watching their relationship unfold. The drama towards the end was easily dealt with, with honest communication and a little kick in the pants from Cord's friends :D These two were perfect for each other and totally deserved their happily everafter. The Men of At Ease Ranch series has been a joy to read, each book can be read as a standalone and I highly recommend them all!
I can;t get enough of this series! I just love the guys at the At-Ease Ranch. This one is Cord and Haley's story. Both have had an attraction to one another, but Haley's late husband has come between them, but attraction like theirs can't be kept dormant for long. What we find out about Haley you couldn't ask for anyone better then Cord to be there for her. He treats her a way a man should and it was so beautiful to watch Haley blossom. They don't want forever, but soon temporary might not just be enough. I enjoyed seeing that Lula Belle is still up to her mischief.
I've loved this whole series and this may be my favorite to date. Haley and Cord just work so well together I couldn't help but fall in love with them. There's a nice easy flow to the story that just keeps you turning the pages. This is a great story of two people fighting an attraction due to a sense of honor but in the end is inevitable. They both keep secrets that could hurt the other and could ultimately drive them apart. Grab a copy of this one and enjoy their story! I highly recommend it.
Donna Michaels has a penchant for writing stories of independent women with one major flaw. Pride. It leads to their downfall, every time. Of course there's always the thrill of a hot guy to help cushion the fall. For Haley and Cord rebuilding their friendship is an uphill battle, littered with secrets and promises. Can their burgeoning romance survive the drama heading it's way? The Right Ranger has classic written all over it.
The Right Ranger is book 3 of Ms Michaels series titled The Men of At Ease Ranch. A ranch created to help veterans find a home and a life after serving their country. I have enjoyed the series and this book is one of the best stories of the series. Haley Wagner and ex-Army Ranger Cord Brannigan are the main characters . Hayley is the widow of one of an Army Ranger team memberd and now is trying to get the ranch she inherited up and running as a horse boarding ranch. Cord offers to help. He held her dying husband during combat , and feels he needs to protect her by keeping a truth he knows of her husband. Cord also has been in love with her for years, but never acted on it out of respect. Both are keeping secrets . Secrets that at one point causes them to be torn apart. Characters from previous stories make an appearance and it’s nice to see how they are coming along. All that said, it’s also a story about how we as a nation, have a responsibility to help the returning men and women who dedicate their lives to preserve our freedom. Also a reminder that for a relationship to succeed there has to be trust, honesty, respect and communication. And let’s not forget love. Kudos to Ms Michaels for another winner. I was gifted this copy by Netgalley, and the publisher. The opinions expressed are soley my own.
Former ranger Cord has been watching his deceased buddy's wife from a far as promised, but after receiving a phone call he learns she needs help and he's going to have to ignore his hot feelings for her, just go to her and get along with some of the heavy work that Haley needs doing. The story was a little lacklustre which was a shame as the couple had tons of chemistry. But they spent most of the their time having sex and nothing else really happened until near the end which seemed rushed. Just an ok read for me!