Saturday Excerpt: Hard Rustler by B.J. Daniels

Looking for a Western hero to liven up your weekend? Dive into Hard Rustler by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author B.J. Daniels! We’ll even get you started, with the excerpt below.

About Hard Rustler:

A cowboy must face his past

Before he loses his heart…again

Supermodel Annabelle “Annie” Clementine is back in Whitehorse, Montana. And there’s nothing cowboy Dawson Rogers wants more than to see his ex-lover’s backside…on the road out. He’ll even risk his heart again and help sell her late grandmother’s house so Annie can leave ASAP. Except along with the house, Annie inherited a mystery. And if they don’t solve it soon, someone’s willing to kill for the answer.

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***

As her sports car topped the rise, Annabelle Clementine looked out at the rugged country spread before her and felt her heart drop. She’d never thought she’d see so many miles of wild winter Montana landscape ever again. At least, she’d hoped not.

How could she have forgotten the remoteness? The vastness? The isolation? There wasn’t a town in sight. Or a ranch house. Or another living soul.

She glanced down at her gas gauge. It hovered at empty. She’d tried to get gas at the last station, but her credit card wouldn’t work and she’d gone through almost all of her cash. She’d put in what fuel she could with the change she was able scrape up, but it had barely moved the gauge. If she ran out of gas before she reached Whitehorse…well, it would just be her luck, wouldn’t it?

She let the expensive silver sports car coast down the mountain toward the deep gorge of the Missouri River, thankful that most of the snow was high in the mountains and not on the highway. She didn’t know what she would have done if the roads had been icy since she hadn’t seen a snow tire since she’d left Montana.

The motor coughed. She looked down at the gauge. The engine had to be running on fumes. What was she going to do? It was still miles to Whitehorse. Tears burned her eyes, but she refused to cry. Yes, things were bad. Really bad. But—

She was almost to the river bottom when she saw it. At a wide spot where the river wound on its way through Montana east to the Mississippi, a pickup and horse trailer were pulled off to the side of the highway. Her pulse jumped at just the thought of another human being—let alone the possibility of getting some fuel. If she could just get to Whitehorse…

But as she descended the mountain, she didn’t see anyone around the pickup or horse trailer. What if the rig had been left beside the road and the driver was nowhere to be found? Maybe there would be a gas can in the back of the pickup or—Have you stooped so low that now you would steal gas?

Fortunately, she wasn’t forced to answer that. She spotted a cowboy standing on the far side of the truck. Her instant of relief was quickly doused as she looked around and realized how alone the two of them were, out here in the middle of nowhere.

Don’t be silly. What are the chances the cowboy is a serial killer, rapist, kidnapper, ax murderer…? The motor sputtered as if taking its last gasp as she slowed. It wasn’t as if she had a choice. She hadn’t seen another car for over an hour. For miles she’d driven through open country dotted occasionally with cows but no people. And she knew there was nothing but rugged country the rest of the way north to Whitehorse.

If there had been any other way to get where she was headed, she would have taken it. But her options had been limited for some time now.

And today, it seemed, her options had come down to this cowboy and possible serial killer rapist kidnapper ax murderer.

She let the car glide into the spot next to where the cowboy had pulled off the highway. I’ll just bum a little fuel and be on my way. Nothing to worry about. Just the thought made her laugh. Her life was one big worry right now, she fretted, as she took in the rangy-looking cowboy standing by his truck.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” She groaned. Taking risks is what got you into this mess. Like she had to be reminded.

The engine let out a final cough and died. Committed now, she had no choice as she braked next to the horse trailer. Turning off the key in the ignition, she checked her makeup and hair in the mirror. You’re Annabelle Clementine. You can do this. The woman who stared back at her from the mirror looked skeptical at best.

Bucking up her courage, she stepped out of the car, careful not to let her last pair of expensive heels get muddy. “Excuse me?” she called, determined also not to get too far away from her open car door. “I’m afraid I have a small problem and really could use some help.” She was ready to make a hasty retreat back into the car, if need be. Not that she would be going far if things went south. But at least she could lock herself in. She instantly regretted the fact that she’d bought a canvas-topped convertible, which had been perfect in Southern California.

The cowboy had his back to her and hadn’t looked up from where he’d been digging around in the back of his pickup bed.

“Excuse me?” she tried again. He had to have heard her. But so far, he hadn’t acknowledged her presence in any way.

Forced to move away from the car, she took in the cowboy as she approached and wasn’t impressed with what she saw. But then again, she’d grown up with cowboys so she’d never understood the fascination. Admittedly, this one was tall, broad shouldered, slim hipped, long legged and not bad from the backside.

Unfortunately, everything else about him looked worn and dirty, from his jeans, boots and canvas jacket to the Stetson on the too-long dark hair curling at the nape of his red neck.

At her approach, he gave her a quick glance over his shoulder. She could see little of his face. He wore mirrored sunglasses against the winter glare, his hat pulled low. Under the dark shadow of his Stetson, she glimpsed several week’s growth of beard, making him look even more craggy and unkempt. No designer stubble on this cowboy.

Either he’d been on the range for days or this was as good as it got with him.

You’re not marrying him. You’re just bumming fuel. “Hello?” she said louder and with more attitude as he went back to what he was doing.

“There a problem?” he drawled in a low, lazy tone as he finally finished and turned, seemingly reluctantly, to give her his attention. She saw that he’d been feeding his dog in the back of the pickup. The dog—little more than a puppy—was a furry mutt with one blue eye and one brown one circled by a patch of black. He didn’t look much better than his owner.

She shifted her gaze back to the cowboy who was looking at her car as if he’d never seen one like it before. Probably doesn’t get off the ranch much.

He slowly slid his gaze back to her with a nonchalance that made her grind her teeth.

“Yes, there is a problem.” She’d thought she’d already told him that.

He lifted the brim of his hat, dropped his sunglasses down to look over them for a moment. She caught a glimpse of brown eyes as he surveyed her, making her feel nearly naked under the black cashmere sweater and slacks she was wearing, before he lifted his sunglasses again.

“I’m afraid I forgot to buy gas at the last station,” she said, wanting to get this over with as quickly as possible—even if it did make her look like a fool. She had worse problems. “I was wondering if you might have some gas that I could borrow? Just enough to get me into town?”

“Borrow?” He chuckled at that. “And town being?” She hated to even admit where she was headed.

“Whitehorse.”

“That’s another hour up the road.”

As if she didn’t know that. “My car used more gas than I thought it would.” She gave a nervous laugh, hating that she had to resort to acting as if she didn’t have a brain. Back when she was making money, fuel was never an issue. She hadn’t realized how much a lot of things cost—until she couldn’t pay for them anymore. He nodded, glancing toward the river as if considering her request. “I suppose I could siphon some out of one of my tanks.” He didn’t sound thrilled about it.

Nor had he moved.

“I would appreciate that so much.” She glanced at her watch.

“Got some place to be, do you?”

“I have an appointment.”

“In Whitehorse?” From under the brim of his hat and behind the mirrored sunglasses, he studied her a few moments more before he sighed. “Best pull up next to my pickup while I grab a hose.”

She feared the car wouldn’t start, let alone move. But there must have been just enough fumes left for her to pull up before it died again. She shut off the engine, staying in the car to pop the gas compartment open and watch him move slow as molasses. He acted as if he had all day. He probably did.

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