By R.C. Ryan
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Raised beneath the big Montana sky, Matt Malloy was never meant to be a jet-setting businessman. But he’ll do anything to protect the family ranch he shares with his brothers. Coming home after a two-week trip to Italy, Matt wants nothing more than to shed his suit and tie for a well-worn pair of jeans and ride his horse up to the cabin for some alone time. The last thing he needs is a big-city lawyer invading his privacy-even if she is the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen . . .
Vanessa Kettering has devoted her life to her work. As a passionate animal rights defender, she doesn’t have room for anything else. But from the moment she meets Matt, she’s taken with this rugged cowboy’s lazy smile and tender touch. When a raging storm traps them inside his cabin for the night, one steamy kiss leads to another, sweeping them away with a force that’s as wild and untamed as the land he loves. But when the morning light comes, will she lose her heart?
Glacier Ridge, Montana—1997
The town of Glacier Ridge dated to the 1860s. A time of Western migration, when millions of buffalo roamed the Montana plains. It had seen plenty of legends in its time. Miners discovering gold at Grasshopper Creek. Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his cavalry. Railroad tycoons and, later, oil barons. But the closest thing to legend now in the sleepy little town was the Malloy family. Rancher Francis Xavier Malloy was married to Grace Anne LaRou, the daughter of legendary Hollywood director Nelson LaRou, who had become famous in her own right by spending a lifetime photographing herds of wild mustangs that roamed the Montana wilderness. Collectors paid a fortune for her original photographs, and researchers and even government bureaucrats sought her advice on how to manage the wild horses. Add to that Frank and Grace’s handsome, reckless sons, Patrick and Colin, and the fact that Patrick ran off and married a gorgeous girl named Bernadette when they were just seventeen, leaving the gossips with plenty of things to whisper about. Soon Patrick and Bernie gave birth to three good-looking sons who seemed to be as wild and reckless as their daddy and granddaddy, so folks around Glacier Ridge just naturally figured they’d have plenty to talk about for another generation or two.
It was a given that there was never a dull moment when the Malloys were around.
Twelve-year-old Matthew Malloy, already known as a wild child around the town of Glacier Ridge, was asleep in the top bunk, enjoying a dream. A dream that mirrored the day he’d spent up in the hills with his grandpop Frank, father Patrick, and uncle Colin, who, at twenty-two, was always laughing and teasing and seemed more like a big brother than an uncle. With the first snowstorm of the season rolling in, they’d driven the last of the herd to winter in the south pasture, and had spread a ton of hay from a flatbed truck before heading back to the ranch house for dinner.
Their sprawling Montana ranch was home to four generations of Malloys. Matt and his younger brothers, ten-year-old Luke and nine-year-old Reed, shared a section of the restored house with their parents, Patrick and Bernadette, who still behaved like teenagers, whispering behind their hands, stealing kisses when they thought no one was watching, and laughing over shared secrets. It was obvious to all who knew them that they were still crazy in love.
Frank Malloy, whose Irish ancestors had cleared this raw wilderness, loved sharing the ranch chores with his sons and grandsons, while his Gracie Girl, as he called his wife, often took to the hills for weeks at a time photographing the herds of mustangs that roamed the open range.
Gracie’s father, crotchety old Nelson LaRou, was now slowed by age, forcing him to give up his opulent homes in Connecticut and Hollywood and move in with his daughter and her family on this ranch, which he called the middle of nowhere. Though he constantly complained about the rugged lifestyle, it was no secret that he reveled in the company of his only daughter and was adjusting to the slower pace of life on a working ranch. The family loved it when he regaled them with tales of all the famous movie stars of the past. If only he would use a hearing aid, all their lives might be a bit easier. Gracie liked to say her father heard only what he chose to.
In his sleep Matt was smiling at one of Uncle Colin’s silly jokes, until the dream dissolved and he was jolted into wakefulness by the sound of a door slamming somewhere below, followed by a chorus of voices. Not that it was anything new. In a family the size of his, voices raised in anger and laughter, as well as the occasional thump of a fist, were as natural as the lowing of cattle.
But this was different somehow. He sat up in bed, completely awake, and heard a woman’s voice that sounded too high, too shrill, to be his sweet grandmother Gracie’s. And yet he knew it to be hers. And a low, deep growl that could only be that of his sweet-natured grandpop, Frank, sounding more like a wounded bear.
There were other voices. His uncle Colin cursing. The cultured tones of his great-grandfather Nelson, more a moan than a voice. And the low rumble of strangers, all trying to be heard above the din.
Matt ignored the ladder alongside his top bunk and jumped to the floor. He noted idly that his younger brothers were undisturbed by the commotion.
The words drifted up, clearer now as he opened the bedroom door and stepped into the hallway.
“Impossible. They can’t be…”
“…I tell you…lost control in the snow.”
“I saw more than one set of tire tracks when I went there to document it on film.”
“They could have been made by Sheriff Graystoke’s police car, Nelson.” Deputy Archer Stone’s mouth was a taut line of raw emotion. “Or by mine, or even one of the ranch trucks.”
Matt was halfway down the stairs when the voices went abruptly silent. He glanced down to see half a dozen faces tilted upward, all eyes focused on him. His grandparents were in parkas tossed hastily over their robes, as were his great-grandfather, still holding a movie camera, and the ranch cook, Yancy Martin, hair in wild disarray. His uncle Colin was still in his torn denims and sheepskin parka, obviously caught finishing chores in the barn. Sheriff Eugene Graystoke and his deputy stood in snow-covered boots that were dripping water on the hardwood floor. And over by the door, still as a statue, was old Burke Cowley, his hair and clothes dusted with snow. He was a cowboy who had been with the family for as long as Matt could remember. He stood, eyes downcast, his agitation apparent only by the way he was twirling his Stetson around and around in his hands.
All of them looked grim.
It was Gracie, her face ghostly pale, her eyes red-rimmed from tears, who rushed toward her grandson.
“Oh, Matthew.” She reached her arms as if to clutch him to her, but he shrank back, just out of reach.
He turned to the sheriff. “It’s Mom and Dad, isn’t it?”
No one spoke.
“Are they in the hospital?” At the sound of ten-year-old Luke’s question, everyone looked beyond Matt to see the two younger boys, hair rumpled, eyes wide with a million questions, standing at the top of the stairs.
Matt turned pleading eyes to his grandfather. “What happened, Grandpop? Somebody tell us.”
His family was rendered mute.
It was old Burke who lumbered across the room and put a big, wrinkly hand on the boy’s shoulder, while he signaled for the two younger ones to come closer. “Your ma and pa were in an accident out on the highway. Their car slid off the road and hit a boulder. They’re both gone.”
“Gone where, Burke?” Nine-year-old Reed’s voice raised to a youthful bellow. “You tell us right now. Where are they?”
Burke’s jaw clenched, as if bracing for the blow he was about to deliver. Then the old man cleared his throat twice before he managed to say, “I’m sorry to tell you this, boys. They’re dead. I hope you can take some comfort in the fact that your ma and pa died together, just the way they’d want it.”
Colin crossed the distance between them, wrapping his three young nephews in a tight, hard embrace while his voice trembled. “I know this is a shock. I know what you’re feeling, ’cause I’m feeling it, too. And I know I can’t be your dad. Nobody else could ever be my brother Patrick. But I swear I’ll be here for the three of you.” He turned to include the others, so locked in shock and grief they had no words. “All of us will be here for you. We’re family. And we’ll do everything in our power to keep you boys safe and happy.”
“Happy?” The very word mocked Matt. He pushed free of his uncle’s arms, staring defiantly at all of them.
Time stopped. He heard a buzz of voices, and felt hands reaching for him and his brothers as the family gathered around, determined to offer aid and comfort.
He was aware of only one thing. His sweet, pleasant dream had just become a nightmare. His mother and father, the people he loved more than anything in his young world, were dead. Gone too soon from his life.
And though he and his brothers had all these people willing to surround them with love, Matt knew that nothing, not now, not ever in this life, would be the same again.
Rome, Italy—Present Day
A limousine glided toward the sleek, private jet parked on the tarmac of Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. The uniformed driver hurried around to open the door as two men exited.
Matt Malloy extended a handshake. “Thank you for your hospitality, Vittorio. And please thank your lovely wife for the tour of her family’s vineyards. That was a bonus I hadn’t expected. Tell Maria I hope I didn’t overstay my welcome.”
The handsome, white-haired man gave a vigorous shake of his head. “You know how much we enjoy your company, Matthew. The vineyard was all Maria’s idea. She said to expect a case of her family’s finest wine in time for your summer holidays. You do take a holiday from ranching, don’t you?”
Matt chuckled. “Ranchers like to say our only day off is our funeral.”
“Do not say that, even in jest.” The older man shook his head before closing a big hand over Matt’s shoulder. “It is always a pleasure doing business with you, my friend.”
“The pleasure is mine.” After a final handshake, Matt turned away and greeted the crew at the bottom of the steps before ascending to the plane’s interior.
Within minutes the steps had been lifted and the hatch secured, then the pilot announced their departure.
As soon as they reached their required altitude, Matt unbuckled and retreated to the small bedroom in the rear of the aircraft. When he returned to the cabin, he had already shed his suit and tie and replaced them with denims, a comfortable flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbows, and a pair of well-worn Western boots. Just as easily he shed the attitude of a worldly, successful businessman and became once again a rancher, a man of the soil, eager to return to the life he loved.
Matt leaned over the shoulder of his pilot as the plane cast its shadow on the vast herds darkening the hills below. “Now there’s a sight I never grow tired of.”
“Can’t say I blame you.” Rick Fairfield, with his trim build and graying hair cut razor short, could never be mistaken for anything but a former military pilot. He adjusted his mirrored sunglasses. “After nearly three weeks out of the country, it’s got to be a good feeling to be home again.” He glanced at Stan Novak in the copilot’s seat. “Let’s bring this baby down.”
Matt returned to the cabin and fastened his seat belt for landing. A short time later, after thanking the crew, he deposited his luggage in the bed of a truck that stood idling beside the small runway and climbed into the passenger seat.
Behind the wheel was Burke Cowley. Burke had spent his younger years tending herds on ranches from Montana to Calgary, until he’d settled on the Malloy Ranch, working his way from wrangler to ranch foreman. With his white hair, leathery skin from a lifetime in the weather, and courtly manners, he was a cowboy in the traditional mode. Strong, silent, watchful.
“Welcome home, Matt.”
“Thanks, Burke. I see the weather’s turning.” Matt slipped into a battered parka.
“Springtime in Montana. Shirtsleeves one day, winter gear the next. Was it a good trip?”
Matt shrugged. “Satisfying. Is everyone home?”
“You bet.” Burke nodded. “By now they’ve finished their chores and they’re just waiting for you so they can enjoy the special dinner Yancy’s been cooking all afternoon.”
Matt was smiling as they drove along the wide gravel driveway that circled the barns before leading to the rear of the ranch house.
As Matt stepped down from the truck he turned. “You coming in?”
Burke grinned. “Wouldn’t miss it. I’ll just park this in the barn and be back in no time.”
Matt hauled his luggage up the back-porch steps, experiencing the same little thrill of pleasure he always felt whenever he returned to his family home.
“Matthew.” His grandmother was the first to greet him as he stepped inside and dropped his luggage in the mudroom.
Matt simply stared. “Gram Gracie, you never age.”
“Go on. Look at all this gray hair.”
Despite the strands of gray in her dark hair, she was as trim as a girl. She was wearing her trademark ankle-skimming denim skirt, Western boots, and a cotton shirt the color of a ripe plum, the sleeves rolled to the elbows.
She flew into his arms and hugged him before drawing a little away to look into his eyes. “I missed you.”
“No more than I missed you.”
Matt kept his arm around her as they made their way into the kitchen. “Hey, Yancy.”
At his words the cook and housekeeper, who stood all of five feet two, his salt-and-pepper hair cut in a Dutch-boy bob, set aside a pair of oven mitts before hurrying over to extend his hand. “Welcome home, Matt.”
“Thanks. I’ve missed this. And missed your cooking. Something smells wonderful.”
The cook’s face softened into a mile-wide smile. “I’ve fixed your favorite.”
“Yancy’s Fancy Chicken?” Matt used the term he’d used since childhood to describe the cook’s special chicken dish that never failed to bring compliments. “If I’d known, I’d’ve had the pilot get me here even faster.”
They were enjoying a shared laugh when a handsome man with a lion’s mane of white hair entered from the dining room. Gracie’s father paused for a moment. Standing ramrod straight, his starched white shirt and perfectly tailored gray pants brightened by a cherry-red silk scarf knotted at his throat, Nelson LaRou looked exactly like the director he’d once been, who had commanded an array of Hollywood’s rich and famous.
He hurried toward them. “Welcome home, Matthew.”
“Thanks, Great One.” Matt ignored the outstretched hand and gathered his great-grandfather into his arms for a bear hug.
Though the old man remained straight backed, his stern countenance softened into a smile. It had taken him years here on the ranch to accept such casual signs of affection. In truth, he was still learning. And he liked it more than he would ever admit. Just as he loved the nickname the boys had given him all those years ago. Great-grandfather was just too long. They’d shortened it to Great One, but he sensed that it was more than a title. It spoke of the esteem in which they held him, which tickled him no end.
He cleared his throat. “How was Rome?”
“As amazing as ever. I wish you’d have come with me. Vittorio’s wife took me on a tour of her family’s vineyards. Every time I sampled another wine, I thought of you and all those fancy wines you brought from your places in Connecticut and California.”
Nelson crossed to his favorite chair. “I hope you thought enough of me to bring some home with you.”
“I’m having it shipped.”
“It flipped?” He turned, cupping a hand to his ear. “Can you flip some my way?”
“Shipped, Great One. It’s being shipped from Italy.”
“Good. Good.” Nelson settled into a comfortable easy chair in front of a huge stone fireplace just as the rest of the family began arriving.
The family’s often-absent son Luke ambled in from the barn and rolled his sleeves, washing up at the big sink in the mudroom. Where Matt was tall and lean, his dark hair cut short for his trip to Rome, Luke was more muscular, honed by his never-ending treks to the mountains that called to him. Thick, long hair streamed over his collar.
He hurried over to welcome his brother back. “Another tough assignment, right Matt?”
“Right. But somebody has to do it. And I manfully accepted the challenge.”
The two were still sharing grins when Reed strolled down the stairs and clapped Matt on the shoulder. Tall, wiry, with his long hair tied back in a ponytail and his rough beard in need of a trim, their youngest brother looked as though he’d just come in from months in the wilderness. “You’re alone? I was hoping you’d bring a couple of Italian beauties with you.”
“Wishful thinking, little brother. You’ll have to go to Rome and do your own shopping.”
“That works for me. Next time you’re heading to Italy, you’ve got a traveling companion.”
“You always say that, until it’s time to actually go. Then you realize you’ll need to wear a suit and tie and get a real haircut, and you find way too many things that need your attention here on the ranch.”
Reed gave a mock sigh. “The trials of a cowboy. Never enough time for the ladies.” He looked up. “Speaking of which, here’s the ultimate cowboy now.” He grinned at the handsome man in faded denims and plaid shirt strolling into the kitchen. “When’s the last time you took a pretty lady out to dinner, Colin?”
His uncle was already shaking his head, sending curly dark hair spilling over his forehead. “So many females, so little time.” He grabbed Matt in a bear hug. “’Bout time you got your hide back here. I was beginning to think you’d been seduced into moving to Rome permanently.”
“I did give it some thought. But then I wondered who’d handle all the family business if I just up and relocated.”
Matt’s grandfather, Frank, chose that moment to walk in from the hallway. It was easy to see where his son and grandsons got their handsome Irish looks. From his twinkling blue eyes to his towering frame, he was every inch the successful rancher who’d tamed this rough land with sheer sweat and tears. Though his hair was streaked with gray and his stride was a bit slower, he was still able to work alongside his wranglers without missing a beat.
With a wink at his wife, he reached up and ruffled Matt’s hair the way he had when his grandsons were little. “Any day you get ready to walk away, don’t you worry, sonny boy. I can still negotiate contracts on behalf of the family business.”
“Or hire a staff of lawyers to handle it for you.”
At Matt’s words, Frank pretended to groan. “You think it would take a staff to replace you, sonny boy?”
“At least a staff. Maybe an army.” Matt grinned good-naturedly before accepting a longneck from Yancy’s tray.
The others followed suit. Nelson accepted a martini, which Yancy had learned to make to the old man’s specific directions.
When old Burke walked in, the family was complete. They touched drinks in a salute, and tipped them up to drink.
Matt looked around and felt his heart swell. He never grew tired of this scene. His brothers, his uncle, his grandparents, and his great-grandfather all here, as they’d been since he was a kid, surrounding him with love. Yancy cooking. Burke standing just slightly outside the circle, like a fierce, vigilant guardian angel.
Outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, the tops of the mountains in the distance were gilded with gold and pink and mauve shadows as the sun began to set.
Life, he thought, didn’t get much better.
At Yancy’s familiar words, they circled the big, wooden harvest table and took their places. Frank sat at the head, with his Gracie Girl at his right and their son, Colin, to his left. Matt sat beside Colin, with Burke beside him. Luke and Reed faced them on the other side, with Nelson holding court at the other end of the table.
After passing around platters of tender, marinated chicken, potatoes au gratin, and green beans fresh from the garden, Yancy took his place next to Reed.
Matt took a bite of chicken and gave a sigh of pleasure. “Yancy, after all that great Italian food, this is a real treat. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed this.”
The cook’s still-boyish face creased into a smile of pleasure at Matt’s words.
“Okay.” Luke pinned his older brother with a look. “Enough about the food. I want to know what happened with Mazzola International. Are they in?”
Matt put aside his fork before nodding. “They’re in.”
“They signed a contract?”
“Their lawyers still have some work to do. But Vittorio and I shook on it. And that’s good enough for me.”
Luke reached over to high-five his brother.
Matt laughed as he looked around the table at the others. “I figured that news would make Luke’s day.”
Colin shot a meaningful look at his nephew. “Does this mean you intend to give up all those reckless pursuits and settle down to raise cattle?”
“Reckless pursuits?” Luke arched a brow.
His uncle narrowed his gaze. “I caught a glimpse of you on your Harley, heading into the wilderness. You were doing one of your daredevil Evel Knievel imitations, as I recall.”
Luke gave one of his famous rogue grins. “The way I see it, jumping a motorcycle off a cliff, or hiking through the mountains with nothing more than a camera, a rifle, and a bedroll—” he turned to his grandmother “—searching for that elusive white mustang stallion you’ve been tracking for years, is no distraction from work. They help prepare me to be a better cowboy.”
“Or an aimless drifter,” his great-grandfather muttered.
Luke’s grin widened. “There’s nothing aimless about it, Great One. It’s preparing me for whatever life throws at me.” He turned to Matt. “Enough about me. Tell us more about Rome.”
Matt paused for dramatic effect before saying, “I brought back a little something for you, too, Reed.”
Their younger brother looked up in surprise before narrowing his eyes in suspicion. “Okay. Give.”
“I know how you’ve been hoping to make a mark in the green industry…”
Reed nodded. “Organic. Pure beef with no hormones, no antibiotics.”
“Exactly. Leone Industries has agreed to a limited contract, to test the market. If they can see enough profit, they’ll sign for the long term.” He studied the excitement that had leapt into his brother’s eyes. “Just remember. It’s only a limited contract until they test the market.”
“It’s a foot in the door.” Reed sat back, too excited to finish his meal. “And there’s an entire generation of buyers out there just waiting for this. If Leone Industries will give it a fair trial, this will become the gold standard for prime beef. And we’ll be there first.”
“Hah.” Nelson sipped his martini and frowned. “Food fanatics. That’s what they are. Now in my day—”
“Not now, Dad.” Grace kept her tone light, but there was a hint of steel in her words. “Let Reed enjoy the moment. This is something he’s been preparing for since he was barely out of his teens.”
“You got that right, Gracie Girl.” Frank Malloy patted his wife’s hand before turning to his grandson. “You realize this means you’ll have to work twice as hard to see that you have enough healthy cattle to fulfill this contract with Leone.”
“I don’t mind the work, Grandpop.”
“I know you don’t, sonny boy, and you never have. You’ve been tending your own herd since you were knee-high to a pup.”
Reed flushed with pride. “I’ll need to get busy segregating one herd and seeing that they meet all the requirements to be truly organic.”
“And I’d like to get in one more trip to the mountains and see if I can spot a herd of mustangs for Gram Gracie before I settle down and do my lonesome cowboy routine.”
At Luke’s deadpan expression, they all burst into laughter.
“Yeah. That’ll be the day, sonny boy.” Frank squeezed his wife’s hand.
All of a sudden, with so much good news springing from Matt’s Italian trip, everyone seemed to be talking at once.
Matt sat back, looking around the table, listening to the chorus of voices, and smiling with satisfaction.
He’d missed this. All of it.
He’d grown impatient to get back to his roots.
But now, seeing the animation on their faces, hearing the excitement in their voices, he knew without a doubt it had all been worth waiting for.
- "Ryan has created a gripping love story fraught with danger and lust, pain and sweet, sweet triumph."—Library Journal starred review on Matt
- "Ryan, aka author Ruth Ryan Langan, takes it to the next level in the first book of her new Malloys of Montana series...Fans know that hot Montana men are Ryan/Langan's specialty (the McCords series, anyone?), so get cozy in your favorite reading nook and enjoy! "—B&N Reads Blog on Matt
- "The beguiling first novel in the Malloys of Montana contemporary series from Ryan (a pen name for Ruth Ryan Langan) depicts the lure of the mountains as a Chicago lawyer falls for a handsome rancher...Touching and romantic, Ryan's portrayal of a city slicker falling for a cowboy delves into the depths of each of their personalities to find common ground in their love for the land. Readers will eagerly anticipate future installments."—Publishers Weekly on Matt
"4 stars!!! With tough, sex cowboys set against the beautiful, rural landscape of Montana, Ryan's latest is a must-read."
—RT Book Review on Matt
"Rich, layered, vulnerable characters...coupled with strong chemistry and intense heat between them, proves Ryan does the contemporary Western love story well."
--RT Book Reviews on The Legacy of Copper Creek
"This book is a winner. Ryan writes with a realism that brings readers deep into the world she's created. The characters all have an authenticity that touches the heart."
--RT Book Reviews on The Rebel of Copper Creek
"Ryan's storytelling is tinged with warmth and down-to-earth grit. Her authentic, distinctive characters will get to the heart of any reader. With a sweet plot infused with family love, a fiery romance and a bit of mystery, Ryan does not disappoint."
--RT Book Reviews on The Maverick of Copper Creek
"There's plenty of hot cowboys, action, and romance in this heady mix of a series that will leave you breathless."
--Parkersburg News and Sentinel on Josh
"Engaging...Ryan paints a picturesque image of the rugged landscape and the boisterous, loving, close-knit Conway family."
--Publishers Weekly on Quinn
"These not-to-be-missed books are guaranteed to warm your heart!"
--Fresh FictionMontana Glory by R.C. Ryan --> on Montana Glory
"Found love, lost treasure and ever-present danger. R.C. Ryan delivers it all with page-turning romance."
-Nora Roberts, New York Times bestselling author on Montana Legacy
- On Sale
- Apr 26, 2016
- Page Count
- 368 pages