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The Rancher’s Inescapable Love - MacFarland Ranch Book 6 (ebook)

The Rancher’s Inescapable Love - MacFarland Ranch Book 6 (ebook)

Sweet n Steamy Romance

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Ace Zielinski is a laid-back kind of guy. He’s had his share of adventure, and now he’s content to live a quieter life back home in Paradise Valley.

Surrounded by lifelong friends, and never short on offers of female company, he enjoys dating, but prefers to keep his relationships short and sweet. He values his solitude up in his cabin above the ranch too much – no way does he want a woman disturbing his peaceful life.

He doesn’t mind going out of his way to help people. Last summer he helped a woman who came to the valley in the wake of a difficult divorce. Now, he’s about to be reminded that no good deed goes unpunished.

Ariana Knightly cannot figure out how her life got turned upside down so completely and abruptly. Yes, she knew that she might face some blowback after handling Stella Ansari’s divorce last year, but she never suspected that she’d find herself in danger, ousted from her own law firm, and worse still, stuck in the middle of nowhere, Montana.

Staying on the same ranch where Stella hid out last summer seemed like a good idea. However, Ari hadn’t taken into account that the winters in Montana are a whole lot different from the summers. But not even the subzero temperatures outside can lower the heat levels whenever she’s faced with Ace Zielinski.

All she knew from Stella was that Ace was a nice guy who’d helped her out.

Nice? Ha! Not one of the many words Ari would use to describe him. Hot? Check. Charming? Absolutely! Irresistible? Possibly.

Neither of them was looking for love, but there’s no escaping the fact that they’re perfect for each other. They might have found each other later in life, but it looks like they might have a future together - if Ari can escape the danger that’s closing in.

Available to Read on Kindle, Nook, iThings, Kobo, Phone, Computer, Tablet, Etc! Your eBook will be delivered to your provided email address by BookFunnel. 

The Rancher's Inescapable Love is the sixth book in USA Today Bestselling Author SJ McCoy's new, sweet n steamy western romance series. 

    Chapter One Look Inside

    Chapter One

    Ari tapped her foot as she watched the ancient coffee pot. The way it was gurgling and sputtering didn’t give her much hope of getting a decent cup of coffee any time soon. She turned, rummaging through the drawers in the hope that there might be some instant coffee sachets. No such luck.

    It was her own fault. She should have prepared better. She’d stopped in the damned grocery store on her way here yesterday – she should have had the foresight to pick up the essentials.

    Normally, you’d expect a vacation rental to be stocked with essentials, but so far, there didn’t seem to be anything normal about this place – not by her standards, anyway.

    The place was pleasant enough. It was a small, genuine log cabin. It wasn’t like the mass-produced, cookie-cutter kind that she’d stayed at in Gatlinburg a few years ago. She looked around; this place was a one-off, no doubt about it. She could appreciate the huge, hand-hewn logs. The furnishings were sparse, but tasteful. And everywhere was spotlessly clean.

    She’d brought her own sheets, as she always did when she traveled. But when she stripped the bed to change them, she was surprised that she didn’t feel that it was absolutely necessary. Of course, that hadn’t stopped her.

    She went back into the bedroom to get a shawl from the closet. She’d unpacked and found a place for everything. She went and sniffed the sheets that she’d taken off the bed – they smelled so good. She’d have to catch the housekeeping staff before she left and ask them what detergent they used or just what it was that smelled so heavenly.

    Tugging the shawl around her shoulders, she returned to the kitchen and was pleasantly surprised to see that the coffee maker had managed to produce a carafe of decent-looking coffee. She poured herself a cup warily – looks could be deceiving.

    As she replaced the carafe, the machine made a very indignant-sounding gurgle. It made her laugh.

    “There’s no need to be like that,” she told it. “I have every right to be skeptical until I taste it.” She took a sip and nodded; it wasn’t bad.

    The machine gurgled again, and she raised her cup to it. “Okay! I admit it. I was wrong. You came through, and I’m grateful – Doesn’t mean that I’m not going to pick up a Keurig at the first chance I get,” she muttered as she turned away.

    She had to laugh when the machine made the loudest sound that it had yet, and she’d swear that note of indignation was back.

    She took her coffee to the living area and sat on the sofa, facing the window. The view was spectacular. In front of the cabin, there was a pasture with a creek running through it. A huge mountain towered above the scene. It looked like she was living in a postcard.

    That thought made her sit up a little straighter. You sent postcards when you went on vacation – and this was no vacation. She scowled and went to get her phone from the nightstand. She’d forced herself into the habit of not checking it until she’d had her first cup of coffee in the mornings. But that was part of trying to create some peace and space for herself before she started her hectic day. It didn’t look like she’d need to worry about things getting hectic around here.

    She didn’t know how to feel when she saw that she had no notifications. Well, she had a few emails but nothing that needed her immediate attention, nothing that would set her into action and set the tone for the day.

    She slumped back down on the sofa and reached for her coffee again. This was going to be tough. But it wasn’t as though she had any choice in the matter. That damned Ansari had made life so difficult for her back at home. She would have found ways to work around him if it were up to her, but in the end, her partners had insisted that she should take a leave of absence. And after the scare at the office that everyone – including her – believed that Ansari was behind, she hadn’t been able to refuse.

    Scrolling through her emails, she smiled when she saw one from her daughter, Nessa. Fortunately for both of them, Nessa had perfect timing for once. She’d recently returned home from one of her trips, and while she needed a temporary place to stay, Ari needed a house sitter.

    She loved her daughter dearly and at first had thought she might invite her along to Montana. Her smile faded. She’d decided against that. She didn’t know how likely it was that Ansari would try to get to her here in the same way that he had at home, but she didn’t want to take the risk. Nessa was safer in Austin.

    Just as she was reading her daughter’s long and entertaining account of her interactions with the neighbors, her phone rang.

    “Good morning. I was just reading your email.”

    “Hey, Mom! I thought I’d give you a quick call to make sure that you made it okay.”

    “I did, thanks. I arrived safely last night.”

    She could hear the smile in her daughter’s voice when she said, “And you didn’t think to call me to let me know?”

    She laughed. “Honestly? I didn’t. Someone taught me that no one should have to report their whereabouts all the time.”

    Nessa laughed with her. “Is this what they call a taste of my own medicine?”

    “Something like that. Anyway, you weren’t worried, were you?”

    “No. See, that’s the difference, I trust you and I know just how capable you are. That’s the only reason I used to get mad at you when you would ask me to report in all the time – it felt like you didn’t have any faith in me.”

    “You know that’s not true.”

    “Of course I do – now. I didn’t back then. Now, I know that my mama bear has as much faith in me as I have in her.” She chuckled. “And speaking of bears, have you seen any? Scared any away?”

    “No. But then, as I said, I only arrived yesterday evening. I haven’t ventured out yet.”

    “From the photos that you showed me, it looks kind of remote. Have you even seen any humans?”

    Ari smiled to herself. She’d seen one. And she wouldn’t mind seeing more of him – in any sense. “Just Ace. He’s Stella’s friend – or at least her contact, the guy who set up the rental.”

    “And what’s he like?”

    Ari laughed. “Looks like a cowboy to me.”

    “Oh yeah? Tell me more.”

    “I told you; I don’t want you coming out here until this whole thing is settled. So, don’t go getting any ideas about coming to rope yourself a cowboy.”

    “I know, I know. I’m just curious, that’s all. So, what’s he like?”

    Ari rolled her eyes. By the time she was Nessa’s age, she had a law degree, a budding career, a husband, and a toddler. She loved her daughter dearly, but sometimes she wondered if she was ever going to settle down. But then, there was no rush, if she wanted to spend her time traveling the world and chasing boys, Ari supported her right to do so.

    “He’s far too old for you, sweetie; he’s my age.”

    “Ooh! Now I really want to know what he’s like. Is he hot? Are you interested? I mean, it’s not as though you’re going to have much else to do while you’re hiding out there, is it?”

    Ari bristled a little at that. It was true – she was hiding out – but it still pissed her off.

    Nessa’s tone grew more serious. “You know I’m only joking, Mom, but I’m also kind of not. I know you always shut me down when I say it, but I’m going to say it again anyway; I’d be happy if you met someone.”

    Ari bit down on her bottom lip. “I know,” she said softly. They must’ve had this conversation at least a hundred times over the years. For the longest time, Ari had told her daughter that she had no desire to meet someone new. Nessa’s father, Darren, had died when she was twelve. After that, it had been the two of them against the world. Even now, twenty years later, Ari still missed him. Of course, she’d grown used to life without him. He’d been gone for longer than she’d known him, but she still carried him in her heart.

    “Are you okay?”

    Ari pulled herself together. “Of course I am. I’m fine. In fact, to answer your earlier question, yes – Ace is hot!”

    “Oh my God! And I thought I’d upset you and you were thinking about Dad.”

    “I was thinking about him, but you didn’t upset me.” She chuckled. “How many times do I need to tell you that my lack of interest in men isn’t because I’m still a grieving widow. Of course, I miss your father. But I think we both know that he’d kick my ass for me if he thought I wasn’t moving on. I have moved on. I’ve moved on with my life, just not with someone new, but only because I haven’t met anyone I’d be interested in.”

    “As I’ve told you before, it doesn’t have to be some great love story, Mom. You already had one of those. You could just meet a guy and have some fun. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that. And if you think about it, this is the perfect time.”

    Ari didn’t say anything.

    “You know what I mean. You’re not working. You’ve got all this time on your hands. If you were to meet someone, you could have some fun.”

    “Okay. I know.”

    “So, when will you see the cowboy again?”

    She had to laugh. “I don’t know! I’ll let you know if I do. Okay?”

    Nessa laughed with her. “That’ll do for now. But I want to hear that you’re having fun, all right?”

    Ari loved that her daughter was turning the tables on her, even using her own words against her. She might have a point, too. “All right, but that’s enough about me. How are things there?”

    “Well, I had a wild party and trashed your house last night.”

    “Vanessa Knightly! Don’t even joke about it. You might think it’s funny, but I remember the stress of those days.”

    Nessa chuckled. “Sorry. I was a pain in the ass, wasn’t I?”

    “No comment. And moving swiftly on, is everything okay? Do you need anything?”

    “No, I’m fine, thanks, but I’m going to have to go. I’ll call you again soon, okay?”

    “Okay. And stay out of trouble.”

    Nessa laughed. “I’ll do my best. You, too. Love you, Mom.”

    “Love you, too.”

    Ari set her phone down, trading it for the mug of coffee. It really wasn’t too bad, but she’d have to do something about getting groceries today. She hoped that there might be someplace closer than the store where she’d stopped yesterday, but she had a feeling she’d be out of luck on that.

    She got up to go for a refill and hesitated in front of the window at the sound of a vehicle approaching. She moved to the side so that whoever it was wouldn’t be able to see her. It was probably an overabundance of caution, but she’d rather feel foolish than find out she was wrong about that.

    It was another few moments before the same huge pickup truck that she’d seen yesterday appeared. Ace. She smiled and continued on her way to the kitchen, setting her mug down on the counter. He really was a good-looking son of a gun. And to his credit, he’d gone out of his way to reassure her that he was who he said he was. He hadn’t even given any hint of an I-told-you-so after Stella had confirmed his identity.

    She watched through the kitchen window as he parked his truck next to her SUV. When he climbed out, he crammed his cowboy hat more firmly onto his head, and turned up the collar of his jacket as he hurried toward the cabin.

    She brushed aside the momentary thought that she could hide. Not only would it be a pointless exercise, with the SUV sitting outside, but she also didn’t want to. If she was going to be here for any amount of time – and it looked like she was – she was going to have to trust someone. It made sense for Ace to be that someone. He’d already gone out of his way to help Stella. Ari had to believe that he would do the same for her, should it prove necessary. And besides, as much as she might like the idea, she didn’t think she’d be able to survive out here in total isolation and it seemed that he was going to be her closest neighbor.

    She headed for the door, her decision made; she’d invite him in, offer him a cup of coffee, and pick his brain about the best place to get groceries. That would give her enough insight into who he really was to see how she wanted to proceed from there.

    ~ ~ ~

    Ace knocked on the cabin door, then shoved his hands into his pockets. He had a feeling that he might be waiting on the doorstep for a while. He’d debated whether he should stop or just drive on by. Ari had made it obvious last night that she wasn’t interested in his company. He didn’t want to make a nuisance of himself, but there was something going on with her. He didn’t think that she’d tell him what it was, but he wanted her to know that he was around if she needed him.

    That thought sent a little shiver down his spine. The thought of her needing him? Yeah! He liked that idea. It was hardly likely to happen, but he could entertain himself with the possibility. He didn’t know how she’d managed to get to him this way. If he wanted a woman to want him – or need him – there were a few willing volunteers he could turn to. Mostly, he didn’t have the time or the interest to entertain them. He usually only called on his lady friends when there was some social event that he needed to take a date to.

    Just as he raised his hand to knock again, the door opened. His breath caught in his chest. She was one fine looking woman. Her shiny, dark hair, which had been tied up on top of her head yesterday, now fell around her shoulders. She was dressed in jeans and a V-neck black sweater with a pretty, blue shawl wrapped around her shoulders.

    “Hey, sorry to disturb you again.” He gave her a rueful smile. “Before I say anything else, I want to give you an out – if I’m being a pain in the ass just say the word and I’ll be on my way.”

    Her smile hit him right in the chest. Damn! He was going to have to watch himself. She could have him wrapped around her little finger in no time.

    “Come on in out of the cold.”

    He didn’t need telling twice. She held the door wider, and he stepped in, stomping his boots on the mat so that he wouldn’t track snow inside.

    “Thanks. Is everything okay?”

    She gave him a puzzled look. “Everything’s fine. Oh!” She gave him a wry smile. “You think that I’d only let you in if I needed your help?”

    “No! I didn’t mean that. I mean…” He shrugged. “I wasn’t sure. We didn’t exactly get off to a great start yesterday. I don’t want to invade your space. But…” What the hell, he might as well test the waters. He smiled. “I couldn’t resist stopping by.”

    Her perfectly groomed eyebrows raised slightly. She struck him as the kind of woman who would call him out – and he wasn’t wrong. “Couldn’t resist?” she asked.

    “Logic told me that I should leave you in peace. However… I didn’t want to.”

    “Honesty? How refreshing! Would you like a coffee?”

    He chuckled. “I’d love one, thanks. And if you find honesty refreshing, you’ve come to the right place.”

    She looked back at him over her shoulder as she led him to the kitchen. “How’s that?”

    “Most folks around here will tell it to you straight. Whatever it might be.”

    “That certainly would be refreshing.” She filled a mug from the carafe and slid it toward him. “If you take cream and sugar, you’re out of luck. I didn’t think to stock up on the way here.”

    “Yeah. Most folks do a big shop in town on their way through.” He frowned. “You did get the information packet, right?”

    “I did. It’s on me. Most rentals I’ve stayed at before advise you to stock up before arrival, but they still have at least the bare necessities.”

    Ouch. It might not be a dig, but it sure felt like one. “You can get the basics at the general store in Emigrant. But you’re going to have to go back up to town for most stuff.”

    “Emigrant? Where’s that?”

    He laughed. “You came through there on your way down here. You might have blinked and missed it. Did you see a gas station?”

    She nodded.

    “That’s it.”

    “So, what you’re saying is that the general store is actually just the convenience store at the gas station?”

    He chuckled. “I guess you could put it that way.”

    She refilled her own mug and jerked her chin toward his. “There you go then, would you like to sit?”

    “Sounds good.”

    He followed her to the living room but as soon as his ass hit the seat, his phone rang. He made a face as he dug it out of his pocket. “Sorry. I need to take this.”

    “Hey, Libby. What’s up?”

    “Hi, Ace. Listen, I’m sorry, but is there a chance that you’re on the way down anytime soon? I could really use a hand here.”

    “I’m already halfway there. What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

    Libby blew out a sigh. “I’m fine. Just annoyed at myself. You know that little side door in the barn? I forgot and slid it too fast, and it came off the track. I can fix it; I just need another pair of hands. I wouldn’t bother you, I’d wait for Frankie, but she’s with Owen all day today. The wind’s howling and…”

    “I’m on my way.” He hated hearing the frustration in Libby’s voice. Hated that she was left to do so many things by herself these days.

    She sounded defeated when she said, “Thanks, Ace. I’m sorry.”

    “Hey. It’s okay, I’ve got you. I’ll be there in a few. You’re okay, darlin’. We’ll fix this.”

    As he ended the call and slid his phone back into his pocket, he noticed Ari watching him.

    “You have to go,” she said before he could explain.

    He nodded. “Yeah. A friend needs a hand.”

    There was no mistaking the look of skepticism in her eyes. “Right.” She nodded. “Well, thanks for stopping by. I hope your friend is okay.”

    Shit. He could see what she was thinking. He could see how it must look. As he ran over his side of the conversation in his mind – the only side that Ari had heard – he knew it must have sounded as though he was talking to his woman. He’d called Libby darlin’ – he always did. He’d told her they’d be able to fix it. He could totally understand why Ari might think that Libby was his woman.

    He was tempted to explain but he didn’t have the time. No way was he going to leave Libby struggling by herself just so that he could try to win over some woman he didn’t even know yet – no matter how attractive he found her.

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