Tough and self-reliant Rio Montoya has looked after her two siblings for most of their lives. But when a gang leader makes threats against her sister Bonnie, even Rio isn't prepared for the storm that could destroy her family. When their dreams are shattered in one dangerous moment, Rio seeks refuge for them all at a peaceful horse farm in the small town of Kennison Falls, Minnesota.
Rio should feel safe in Kennison Falls, but her budding romance with the stable's owner, handsome British ex-pat David Pitts-Matherson, feels as dangerous as her past. The incredibly sexy David is as far from her type as any man could get, yet he tempts Rio in a way she never expected. But Rio knows that her time in Kennison Falls is limited, that her family is still in danger, and that she and David come from completely different worldsâ€“a recipe for disaster.
David has his own secrets, and even the sparks he feels flying with the fiery and beautiful Rio may not be enough for him to let her into his heart. Can the beauty and the Brit ever find common ground? Or will their pasts stand in the way of true love?
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“I can’t believe you’ve been in this country ten years and this is your first game of hoops. Sad, man. How’d they even grant you citizenship? ”
David Pitts-Matherson ignored the jibe and crouched in front of his friend. Dr. Chase Preston looked very little like a physician at the moment. He dribbled the ball slowly, intense as Kevin Love, the bounce echoing through the cavernous gymnasium.
“Chatter on, mate,” David replied with a practiced sneer. “I’m a fast study.”
“Sure y’are. I’ll go easy on you anyhow, Limey, so you understand what you’re studyin’.”
David feinted left and then right, his shoes squeaking on the polished wood floor. The fake worked. He batted the ball from Chase’s hand and headed down the court, his dribble admittedly sloppy. When Chase reached him in three long strides, David stopped, took hurried aim, and let the ball fly. It missed the basket and the backboard by a foot, careened off a caged clock, took a hearty bounce, and skittered into a wall.
Chase doubled over in laughter.
“What was that?” he crowed. “Thing had about as much control as a fart in a fan factory.”
David choked, his own laughter wheezing free in a fit of coughing. He might have a noticeable accent, but as far as he was concerned nothing took the prize for sheer outlandishness like Chase’s Southern drawl and resulting phrases of lunacy.
“Nice steal, though.” Chase wiped his eyes. “We’ll work on the shooting.”
David retrieved the ball, dribbled three or four times, and took a jump shot. The ball banked off the backboard and swished neatly through the net.
“Did I ever tell you how much I hate British arrogance?” Chase grinned and captured the ball, dribbled it to the free-throw line, turned, and sank the shot. “Nothin’ but net.”
“Did I ever tell you how much I hate Americans showing off?”
“Yup. You have.”
David laughed again and clapped Chase on the arm. Not quite a year before, Chase had married David’s good friend and colleague Jill Carpenter, and this was the second time David had overnighted with Chase at Crossroads youth and community center in Minneapolis. He was grateful for the camaraderie, and for the free lodging on his supply runs to the city, but mostly for the distraction from life at the stable back home in Kennison Falls. Here there were no bills staring up at him from his desk, no finances to finagle, no colicky horses. Here he could forget he was one disaster away from . . . well, disaster.
It also boggled his mind that he and Chase had an entire converted middle school to themselves.
“All right, play to thirty,” Chase said, tossing him the ball. “Oughta take me no more’n three minutes to hang your limey ass out to dry.”
“Bring it on, Nancy-boy.”
A loud buzzer halted the game before it started.
“Isn’t that the front door?” David asked.
“Yeah.” Deep lines formed between Chase’s brows.
The center had officially closed an hour before at nine o’clock. Members with ID pass cards could enter until eleven—but only did so for emergencies. David followed Chase toward the gymnasium doors. Voices echoed down the hallway.
“Stop pulling, Rio, you’re worse than Hector. He’s not going to follow us in here.”
“It’s Bonnie and Rio Montoya.” Surprise colored Chase’s voice. “Rio’s one of the really good ones. Sane. Hardworking. I can’t imagine why she’s here.”
Rio? David searched his memory but could only recall ever hearing the name in the Duran Duran song.
“Don’t be an idiot.” A second voice, filled with firm, angry notes, rang out clearly as David neared the source. “Of course they’re following us. They might not come inside, but they’ll be waiting, and you cannot handle either of them no matter how much you think you can. Dr. Preston’s on duty tonight. He might be able to run interference.”
“They won’t listen to him. To them he’s just a pretty face. Let me talk to Heco. You never gave me the chance.”
“And I won’t, even if I have to lock you in juvie for a year.”
“God, Rio, you just don’t get it.”
“You’re right, Bonnie Marie. I don’t. What in God’s name possessed you to meet Hector Black after curfew? Do you know what almost went down in that parking lot? Do you know who that other dude was?”
Chase hustled through the doorway. “Rio? Bonnie? Something happen?”
David followed five feet behind him. The hallway outside the gym glowed with harsh fluorescent lighting. Chase had the attention of both girls, but when David moved into view, one of them turned. A force field slammed him out of nowhere—a force field made up of amber-red hair and blazing blue eyes.
Frozen to the spot, he stared and she stared back. Her hair shone the color of new pennies on fire, and her complexion, more olive and exotic than a typical pale redhead’s, captivated him. Her lips, parted and uncertain, were pinup girl full. Her body, beneath a worn-to-softness plaid flannel shirt, was molded into the kind of feminine curves that got a shallow-thinking man in trouble. David normally prided himself on having left such loutishness behind in his university days, but he was rapidly reverting.
“Rio? You all right?” Chase called, and she broke the staring contest first.
“Fine,” she said. “I’m sorry to come in so late. I needed a safe place for this one.”
The teenage girl with her couldn’t have been more her opposite. Model slender and taller than Rio, a pair of dark eyes and a fall of glossy black hair showed a rich Latina heritage.
“Very funny,” the teen said, her lip curled in disgust.
Chase gave an easy chuckle. “Not our sweet-tempered little Bonita.” The teasing in his drawl coaxed a smile from the girl. “All right, now. You both look terrified as june bugs in a twister. What’s goin’ on?”
“About five minutes ago I broke up a transaction that included this one here. Paul and his asshat amigo, Hector, are beyond pissed off. I don’t think we should go home, at least for a few minutes.”
Chase folded his arms. “It was smart to come. Do you want a place to stay for the night?”
“No, no.” Rio dismissed the question. “Once we’re home we’ll be fine. They just need some time, a chance for everyone to cool off.”
Chase nodded. “Let’s sit here awhile, then, and I’ll be glad to take you home. But I’d feel better knowing what’s really going on.”
Lizbeth Selvig lives in Minnesota with her cradle-robbing husband and a border collie that inspired the character Dug (”Squirrel!”) in the Disney movie Up.After working as a journalist and editor and raising an equine veterinarian daughter and a talented musician son, Liz entered and won RWA’s Golden Heart® contest in 2010 with her contemporary romance T he Rancher and the Rock Star. In her spare time, she loves to hike, quilt, read, horseback ride, and play with her nearly twenty four-legged grandchildren.
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