Authors: Shirleen Davies
Stronger than the Rest
MacLarens of Fire Mountain
Book Four in the MacLarens of Fire Mountain Series
Copyright © 2013 by Shirleen Davies
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.
For permission requests, contact the publisher.
Avalanche Ranch Press, LLC
PO Box 12618
Prescott, AZ 86304
Stronger than the Rest is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used factiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is wholly coincidental.
Cover artwork by idrewdesign.
“Smart, tough, and capable, the MacLarens protect their own no matter the odds. Set against America’s rugged frontier, the stories of the men from Fire Mountain are complex, fast-paced, and a must read for anyone who enjoys non-stop action and romance.”
Drew MacLaren is focused and strong. He has achieved all of his goals except one—to return to the MacLaren ranch and build the best horse breeding program in the west. His successful career as an attorney is about to give way to his ranching roots when a bullet changes everything.
Tess Taylor is the quiet, serious daughter of a Colorado ranch family with dreams of her own. Her shy nature keeps her from developing friendships outside of her close-knit family until Drew enters her life. Their relationship grows. Then a bullet, meant for another, leaves him paralyzed and determined to distance himself from the one woman he’s come to love.
Convinced he is no longer the man Tess needs, Drew focuses on regaining the use of his legs and recapturing a life he thought lost. But danger of another kind threatens those he cares about—including Tess—forcing him to rethink his future.
Can Drew overcome the barriers that stand between him, the safety of his friends and family, and a life with the woman he loves? To do it all, he has to be strong. Stronger than the Rest.
This book is dedicated to a group of wonderful friends who have encouraged and supported my writing efforts. My sincerest thanks to Rayma-Lew, Sue, Don, Marilyn, Linda, and all those who have watched this journey unfold. Their enthusiasm has been a true blessing.
I want to thank my editor, Regge Episale, who has been a beacon through my writing journey.
Thanks also to my beta readers, including my wonderful husband, Richard. Their input and suggestions are insightful and greatly appreciated.
Finally, many thanks to my wonderful resources, including Diane Lebow, who has been a whiz at guiding my social media endeavors, and Joseph Murray who is a whiz at formatting my books for both print and electronic versions.
Table of Contents
Stronger than the Rest
“Get up, MacLaren,” a tall, burly man sneered before yanking him out of his wheelchair, kicking the contraption against a wall, and breaking a wheel. “I knew you could make it up—one way or another,” his attacker smirked and turned to the others at the table. “See? He can stand all right.” The last was said as the man landed a blow to Drew’s jaw and released his shirt. Drew crumbled to the ground.
His driver had taken him to the saloon after a long day at the office, then reluctantly left when Drew directed him to return in an hour. He’d been working since seven that morning and needed time to unwind. Cards, whiskey, and the bustle of Charley’s saloon sounded good—at least that’s what he’d thought.
It hadn’t taken him long to win fifty dollars from the brawny stranger. The man had lost several rounds, bellowing his frustration, and accusing Drew of cheating.
Now Drew lay on the saloon floor, rubbing his jaw, and working himself into a sitting position before repositioning his worthless legs. His attacker still stood a foot away glaring down at him.
“That’s enough, Luther. Wouldn’t want the gentleman to think we’re inhospitable to our guests.” A clipped, smooth voice sliced though the smoky air without creating a ripple. Movement stopped and those who already stood parted to let a medium build man in a dark suit stroll up with an outstretched hand. “Connor, get a chair for this gentleman and coffee for Luther,” he called over his shoulder before turning back. “May I give you some help up, stranger?
Drew just stared at the unfamiliar face. He’d been coming to this saloon for months and had never seen the man who stood a foot away.
“Thanks, I appreciate it.” Drew knew he was dead weight and expected him to call someone else over to help, but with one strong pull the much shorter man had Drew up and in a waiting chair. Drew adjusted his legs before peering up. “Where’s Charley?”
“Well, let’s just say Charles made an unwise bet with the wrong person. Poor fellow had no cash to settle his debt, so I am now the proud owner of the Denver Rose.” He swept his arm in an arc around the room. “Ira Walsh at your service. And you are?”
Drew glanced around the saloon and for the first time realized that none of the current workers were familiar. Not one. He’d known Charley was having problems, but never thought he was about to lose a business he’d built for more than ten years. “Drew MacLaren.”
“Mr. MacLaren, allow me to apologize for Luther and his poor behavior. I’m afraid he drank more than usual. And, he isn’t used to losing. He’ll no longer bother you. What may I do for you to make amends?” Ira’s smile was broad but there was something amiss about it, and the man.
Drew studied him. Ira was around five-feet-eight with wavy hair the color of sticky, brown mud after a spring thaw. His sallow skin had a slight yellow tinge—as close to white as you’d see in a country where many still made their living outside. His mustache matched the muddy brown of his hair. He wore black dress slacks and a jacket with velvet lapels and collar. The white shirt blended into his pale skin. What struck Drew the most was the total lack of mercy behind his eyes. They were a flat gray without a hint of compassion, and no warmth spread from his smile to those dead eyes.
“Perhaps you could arrange for transportation back to my office since my normal means of travel has been destroyed,” Drew suggested. He looked at his broken wheelchair. He held no love for the contraption but he was stranded without it—dependent upon others—a situation he despised. His office was only a block away but it might as well have been on the other side of the city. At least he had a spare wheelchair and access to a buggy and driver. His boss, Louis Dunnigan, made sure he received all the services needed for a man in his “temporary condition,” as Dunnigan was fond of saying.
“My pleasure, Mr. MacLaren. Connor, see that our guest has transportation to his office and any assistance he requires,” he ordered the gent who stood a few feet away. “I hope this incident will not discourage future visits.” Ira extended his hand once again.
“I appreciate your hospitality, Mr. Walsh, and look forward to seeing you again,” Drew lied with the same ease as his host.
It took little time for Ira’s men to deliver him into his comfortable office at Dunnigan Enterprises. It was a massive stone structure, five stories high, and took up the majority of a city block.
Drew was glad for the second wheelchair and other conveniences, even though he cursed the need for them every day. His boss had installed a private facility inside Drew’s office so that he didn’t need to go far to take care of his often unexpected needs. Another aspect of his new life he cursed on a daily basis.
Terrence, his efficient and formal secretary, arrived within minutes and stared at the sight before him. Like several of Dunnigan’s employees, he’d been provided with an apartment in the building. Terrance had heard voices below his window and looked out to see his boss being carried into the building by two burly men.
“Mr. MacLaren, sir, you look rather, uh, disheveled.”
Drew had to smile at his secretary’s dry tone. Although he wouldn’t have selected him if the choice had been up to Drew, he’d grown to appreciate Terrence’s loyalty and discretion, especially over the past several weeks.
Drew had left town almost three months ago on a mission to help his twin brother, Will, but had returned with a bullet hole in his back that had left him paralyzed from the waist down.
, Drew thought as he looked up at his secretary.
“I had a run-in with a gentleman who took great exception to my winning at poker, Terrence. Fortunately he took most of his anger out on my chair and not my body.”
Terrence looked him over thoroughly. Satisfied that the damage was primarily to Drew’s clothes, he stepped back to open the door. “Very well, then. May I get you anything, Mr. MacLaren, before I leave?”
“No, Terrance, go ahead, but I’ll need transportation home in an hour.” Drew turned his chair toward his desk, and settled behind it to review the latest documents that had materialized during his brief absence. His usual routine was to work until six at night, have supper, then return to the office until nine before going home, or at least what he called home, until he figured out his future. He glanced up when he heard his office door swing open.
“Oh Drew, I heard what happened and just had to come to make sure you were all right.” Patricia Dunnigan swept into the room like a hurricane. At twenty, she had taken one look at Drew and convinced her father that no one else would do as her husband.
Drew understood then, as he did now, that her attraction to him was as superficial as the dresses and jewelry she wore. Patricia no more loved him than she did any other man. What she did love was the lifestyle her father had provided. Dunnigan had made no secret of his desire to someday include Drew as a partner, not just an employee. Patricia took this as an indication that the young attorney would one day be wealthy, and therefore, a suitable husband. Drew wanted no part of that type of union.
When Drew’s mind did wander to thoughts of love and marriage, the image that came to him was that of Tess Taylor, not the self-absorbed female who now stood in front of him. Tess was the only woman he wanted, and he thought she felt the same. He’d go to her if he regained the use of his legs, but not before.