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Authors: Amanda McIntyre

Tags: #The Kinnison Legacy, #Book One

Rugged Hearts

BOOK: Rugged Hearts
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This book is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Rugged Hearts

Copyright © 2013 by Amanda McIntyre

ISBN: 978-1-61333-528-4

Cover art by Sahara Kelly

 

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work, in whole or in part, in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by Decadent Publishing Company, LLC

Look for us online at:

www.decadentpublishing.com

 

 

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Rugged Hearts

The Kinnison Legacy, Book One

 

By

Amanda McIntyre

 

 

"
A beautiful tale of love, loss, forgiveness of self, and hope for the future. Amanda McIntyre creates characters with a depth of emotion that grab you by the heart and keep you on the edge of your seat....A must read
!" C.H. Admirand, Author of A WEDDING IN APPLE GROVE

 

 

~DEDICATION~

 

 

Thanks to friends—Heather Graham, for a grace that shines like no other in this business, Sahara, my brilliant friend and artistic genius, Colleen, for her warmth, and sharing of perspectives on life and family, and Kimberly, a dynamo of a PA, who keeps me on track. Thanks to Kate, my amazing daughter, for her guidance on this book and her inspiration as a teacher. To the countless readers who support my writing, I am truly grateful.

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

A blustery, forty-mile-an-hour north wind sliced across the pasture, pelting razor-sharp pellets of ice at Wyatt Kinnison’s face. He narrowed his eyes to protect them from the bitter attack as he set to the task of freeing the squirming calf from the barbed wire wrapped around its leg. Controlling his anger, he whistled softly between his teeth, a habit he’d picked up from his stepdad. He inspected the wriggling creature, relieved to see only a portion of hair had rubbed off its hide. The cantankerous runt reminded him of his younger brother. Even now that he was older, it seemed he was forever pulling Dalton’s butt out of a wringer. “This is the third time this week I’ve saved your sorry ass,” he cautioned the calf. “You may not be so lucky next time.”

Circumstances had caused Wyatt to become an adult long before he should have, and it had left him tainted. He had little patience with children or ornery calves, but like his brother, he’d give his life for them.

“Dammit, do me a favor. Hold still.” He clenched his jaw from both frustration and cold. The exposed flesh on the side of his neck was numb where the frigid wind and snow had blown down his collar. The calf twisted in his grasp, bawling woefully with the sudden movement. He could have just snipped the fence, but with the darkening sky and the wind blurring his vision, he didn’t want to risk greater injury to the animal. This close to the mountains, one could never be sure what predators roamed the woods, their senses alert to the scent of fresh blood. “There, you little troublemaker.” He swatted the calf’s butt and watched as he stumbled to stand on his wobbly legs. A call from the herd had the runt kicking up his heels, his tail flicking high, as he trotted with not a care in the world toward the sound of his mama’s voice.

“You’re welcome,” Wyatt called out. “Stay close to your mom. Maybe it’ll keep you out of trouble.” He let out a derisive snort, as if he had the slightest idea what it was like to be close to his mother. He had only been eleven and his brother Dalton, nine, when their mother had left them high and dry. Time had made him realize that maybe, in the end, she’d done them all a favor. But it didn’t make the sting of finding her good-bye note on Christmas morning any easier. The holiday had never meant much to him after that.

Yeah, helluva Christmas present
.

Wyatt pushed aside the painful thought and tugged the brim of his Stetson to block the wind. Flipping up the collar of his coat, he reached for the skewed post, set it upright, and then used the side of a short-handled ax to drive the pole into the sodden ground. He tamped the loose soil around the base with the heel of his boot and made a mental note to check the rest of the line come morning. Lifting his gaze, he scanned the opposite side of the pasture where the low pine-covered hills gave rise to the Crazies mountain range. The land, most of it owned by the Last Hope Ranch, was one of the few remaining cattle ranches in the area. Near the Continental Divide, the acreage stretched from the mountain base to the closest town, End of the Line, Montana—population two hundred thirty-three at last count. Known in its day as a stop for traders and ranchers, the birth of the railway and the discovery of gold turned it into a virtual ghost town until some enterprising folks, including Jed, Wyatt’s stepdad, found value in its rich western heritage and began the task of renovating its historical integrity. Growth hadn’t always been swift, but for the folks in End of the Line, slow and steady was a lifestyle.

There were times, however, that Wyatt questioned Jed’s decision to leave him as head of the ranch, but little else meant as much. He blew out a breath, glanced up at the gray-white, snow-filled sky, and thought of the man who’d taught him all he knew, who’d given him a new life. He slid the ax inside its worn leather harness and pulled himself up into the saddle. Holding on to his hat, he ducked his head from the charge of driving wind and snow. He’d feel a lot better when this deal to sell off the heifers was firmly in place. With another quick glance at the herd huddled under a giant oak, he turned away from the wind. He drew his glove over his face, wiped the snow from his eyelashes, and nudged the horse toward home. She fell into a steady trot, as eager as Wyatt to go where it was warm. The memory of the day Jed had surprised him with the horse flashed into his mind.

“It’s time, son. You’ve earned this.” Jed held out the reins, and Wyatt, not quite thirteen, took them with trembling hands. She was a beautiful Bay, almost sixteen hands high, with large, expressive, brown eyes that watched him closely as he drew near. He laid his cheek against her neck, and she nuzzled the back of his head. He named her Pretty Lady after a comment Jed had made about her graceful looks. She was the first female he’d ever truly loved.

Years later, he realized Jed must have known how the mare’s even temper and strength would be a lesson to a boy nursing the scars of his mother’s abandonment. He leaned forward and brushed the snow from her soft brown coat. There were times he could swear she could read his mind as well as he could hers. “Come on, Lady, I hear a bucket of oats calling your name.” Attentive to what he said, the horse pricked her ears and quickened her pace. The weather caused his thoughts to turn briefly to his younger brother Dalton, and Rein, Jed’s nephew. The three were a family, raised from their teen years to manhood by Jed, a self-made man with no children of his own and possessing a heart as big as a Montana Sky. He’d adopted Wyatt and Dalton shortly after marrying their mom, and after she left, it wasn’t more than a year later when Rein, a quiet, studious young man, had come to live with his uncle after his parents had been killed in a car accident.

The two would-be brothers had just left on their annual trip to Sioux City, where they brokered the sales of some of their cattle to a client that had traded with Jed for years. The pilot they’d hired to travel to the meeting was a former Iraqi soldier and good friend who now ran a small charter company out of Billings. Wyatt was glad to have heard from Rein, even though the news wasn’t what he’d expected.

“There’s been a delay,” Rein said. “Some of the numbers on the contract aren’t what we originally discussed. I want to talk to this new attorney and see what’s going on. The problem is it seems this guy took off on an impromptu ski trip and won’t be back until the day after tomorrow.”

“So much for flying down early to cinch this up before the holiday. Why not just talk to the guy by phone or use that Skype thing you talk so much about?” Wyatt wasn’t particularly concerned about spending Christmas by himself. Over the years, he’d spent many a holiday alone, while the other two, off at college, took full advantage of things like spring break and ski trips.

“Not this time, bro. I’m concerned about the figures on this agreement. They aren’t what I remember them to be. I want to talk to the guy face to face. We may be going back to the drawing board. I think he’s trying to finagle things a bit to pad his pockets, and I don’t think ol’ Russ is aware of it just yet. The poor guy is in his eighties and still trading like he did when Jed worked with him. I want a good deal, but I want it to be fair for all of us. I plan to speak to him, though, before his legal counsel gets back to town.”

It was useless to argue. Rein was the one with the business head and dual degrees in agricultural business and architectural design under his shiny silver belt buckle. He’d returned home with the intention of seeing to fruition his uncle’s vision for the ranch, to make it a haven for the lost and weary and a place to find purpose and strength through nature and hard work. It was an idea born of a man who’d reared three dysfunctional teens, not of his blood, and turned them into capable young men whom he was proud to call his sons.

“Just keep me posted. How’s Dalton taking the delay?”

Rein snorted. “About like you’d think. He’s afraid he’s going to miss the annual holiday pool tourney at the pub.”

Wyatt shook his head, thinking of his younger brother. Twice his size, Dalton looked like some mountain man with an unruly beard and black, curly hair. He had barely squeaked through college and afterward took off to travel and find himself. He’d never been as devoted to the ranch as the other two, but somehow a couple of years later he found himself back home, still fighting his demons and still unsure of what to do with his life. Nonetheless, Wyatt’s maturity gave him the ability to see and appreciate qualities in his younger brother; he viewed him akin to a slightly misguided knight, trying to right the injustices of the world. Dalton, like Rein, believed in the vision that Jed had for the Last Hope Ranch, but Wyatt was less excited about changing the way things were. He enjoyed the solitude and let the other two handle the networking necessities.

“Let me know what’s going on, Rein, and keep an eye on the weather.”

“Right. Talk to you soon.”

Wyatt shifted in the saddle, happy when he finally saw the faint lights of home through the swirling snow. “Almost there, girl.” He looked at the ranch, spread out like a sparkling jewel in the valley. Jed would talk with pride about designing and building the home and how for every tree used in construction, he’d plant two more on the property. It’s true purpose was his intention of raising a large family and the hope of many grandkids. Instead, Jed wound up divorced with three misfit boys to raise. He had been not only a brilliant rancher but also an eternal optimist. When he saw the need for the children of End of the Line to have visit each year from Kris Kringle, he’d filled that need and so too, his own need for a bigger family. He referred to the children over the years as “his kids.” There’d been a time or two as Jed grew older that he voiced regret that Wyatt wasn’t able to give him his own grandkids to spoil, but settling down as a family man had never been one of Wyatt’s goals.

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