One Aussie. One Texan. One baby. One hell of a fight.
When his sister and her husband are killed in an accident, Aussie cattle station owner Lachlan McCoughney rushes to Texas to rescue their infant daughter, Chloe. He expects to find his niece living in squalor with the Sheffields, a rodeo family.
Instead, Lachlan finds Holden Sheffield, a salt-of-the-earth cowboy running a huge business operation. They want to explore their mutual attraction despite the many problems thrown their way, and together, they must find a way to give Chloe a new family and find a love that spans thousands of acres and two continents.
THE PHONE woke him at maybe 3:00 a.m., and Lachlan McCoughey grumbled when he reached for it. Christ, that was the hazard of doing business all over the world. People forgot the time difference.
“Hello?” He hoped this was not some weird American charity wanting a donation. That always started his day off poorly.
“Lachy? It’s Rick O’Riordan. I have news.”
“Oh yeah?” He sat up, reaching for the light. He’d hired private investigator Rick a few years back to find his sister, Adelaide, when she’d run off right after her twenty-second birthday. “What?”
“I—shit, mate, I hate being the bastard to bring bad news.”
His scalp prickled, and goose pimples rose on his arms. “Just tell me.”
“Ades was in a plane accident three weeks ago over in the States. She and her husband.”
Jesus. He felt as if Rick had hit him with a hammer, right in the belly. How could that be possible? His baby sister, gone off this earth?
“I’m sorry as hell, mate. I saw a little blip on the AP feed. All that searching and I missed it until today.”
“You have the details now?” He didn’t want to know, but he had to. His mum… she deserved to know.
“I do. Lachy. There’s lots.”
He rubbed his eyes with his free hand. “How much? You said she was married.” He’d not have guessed.
“Yes. A bull rider from Texas. They… they got married two and a half years ago. They had…. Oh shit, mate. There’s a little one. A little sheila. Three and a half months old.”
His heart stopped for a moment. Really stopped. “She wasn’t on the plane.”
“No. No, she was with her father’s family.”
“Thank God.” His hands shook, his whole body going shocky. “What. Where is she now?”
“Living with the Sheffields. That’s the family.”
“Wait. She married Landon Sheffield?” Sheffield was a tiny little bastard. What the hell had Addie seen in him? That motherfucker had been a guest in his house. Snake in the ruddy grass.
“Yeah. You know him?”
“Yank bull rider. He was over here for some big tour. They did a promotional shoot up here.” He was going to lose his shit.
“There’s a twin brother. Uh….” He heard papers shuffling. “Holden. He’s named on the will as the guardian.”
“Not the grandparents?”
“Damn it.” Okay, that wasn’t going to work. He’d never met the brother, but the Sheffields were rodeo people. A little girl needed a stable home. Not some nomadic bullshit life where nothing stayed the same for a week at a time. She needed a home. Her mom was gone, and he hadn’t even known.
“How do I find them?” Lachlan asked.
“I have phone numbers, an address. I’ll send it all. I just didn’t feel right knowing and waiting for morning to call.”
“No, I get it. I need to get a flight and such. Thanks for staying on top of it, mate.”
“Anything. Anytime. You know that.”
Yeah. Yeah, he did. Rick had had his back from when he took over the family business when he was eighteen. The man was steady, solid, and caring. Made him good at his job.
He hung up with Rick after arranging to get the information via e-mail, then pondered waking his assistant, Gina.
Ah, he paid her enough; she could arrange travel for him for the first possible moment. He clicked her name on his phone, knowing how she loved a challenge.
She answered on the second ring. “B… boss? Boss, what’s wrong?”
“Ades. She’s dead. I need to get to the States. Now.”
Gina’s voice sharpened into fully awake mode. “Oh, Boss. I’m sorry. Where? Is there a funeral to plan? A hotel? I need details.”
“I’ll send the info. Plane crash. Texas. Three weeks ago. Immediately, Gina.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll send you confirmations. Do I need to call Leeyah and have her pack for you?”
“Yeah. Yeah. I’m going to…. I’ll wait for your call.” He was going to get a beer and go sit and think about his baby sister, about how they’d spent their childhoods in each other’s pockets.
His face bent into a grimace, the pain hitting him as he rang off. Ades. Gone. For good. It couldn’t be. She was….
What was he gonna tell his mum? She’d collapse, no doubt about it. Ades had always been her favorite, and that wasn’t even him being a bitter bastard. Ades was her girl.
“Damn it, Sis. What the hell were you thinking? Were you…. You ran off!” He was standing there like a lunatic, screaming at the moon.
Okay, no. He needed to get his shit together, to send all his e-mails from Rick on to Gina.
He could melt down later.
Like after he brought his niece home to her grandparents, where she belonged.
“I SWEAR to God, y’all, if you don’t get your heads out of your asses, I’m going to beat all y’all down!”
Holden Sheffield loved listening to Crazy McPhail beller. It suited his mood down to the bone. The bullfighter took his training duties seriously, and the junior cowboy protection was obviously slacking.
“Come on, Pepper. Let’s go see what’s what.” Holden turned his mare toward the pen Crazy was working.
He needed some normal in his world. A rodeo company took a lot of work, as did running three totally different ranches—a lot of riding around and checking on shit. Holden loved his job today, that he could look at the folks and say, “Got to go do rounds.”
Need to go outside.
Got to feel the blazing hot sun on his arms and keep his butt in the saddle.
He hated feeling as if he was running away. Chloe was the light of his life. Hell, she had been since she was born. Now she was his sole responsibility, though, and he was still fucking reeling from Landon being gone.
Pepper tossed her head, reminding him that he had to pay attention. Horses knew when a man was distracted.
“Yeah, yeah. I know. I need to get in there and get someone to ride Sunshine and Barbwire, huh? They’ve got to be losing their minds.” Holden just hadn’t been able to face Addie and Landon’s favorites. He couldn’t do it. Not yet. Soon.
He’d tell Curtis to get a couple of the boys to take them out, trustworthy boys. Last thing he needed was one of his brother’s horses going down with bloat or pneumonia because some Vegas faker was visiting and wanted to play cowboy.
His phone rang, startling the living fuck out of him, and he grabbed it, even as Pepper danced underneath him. “Oh, stop it. What’s up, Momma?”
“You have to come, baby. Now. Right now.” Her voice hadn’t sounded so panicked since they’d found out the plane had gone down. “Addie’s people are here, and they want Chloe! You have to come to the house, right now!”
He was already spurring Pepper, heading toward the big house at a dead run. Wasn’t no one taking that baby girl anywhere. Addie didn’t have people, none worth considering. Landon had told him that they were controlling assholes who never let Addie so much as breathe without ten security guards everywhere. From what he understood, they were like Crocodile Dundee meets Doomsday Preppers.
“It ain’t right, Denny,” Landon had said from the phone in somewhere—Singapore, maybe—when they were running from the McCougheys. “You cain’t breathe like that. She’s magic. You’re gonna love her. I’m bringing her home.”
And Landon had brought Addie home, and Holden had loved her. She was his best friend and one hell of a horsewoman.
Momma wouldn’t let them take Chloe without a fight, so he didn’t even have to answer. He only had to get there, and he had enough bottled-up rage to stomp Addie’s “people” into the damned ground.
He hit the yard, and Pepper cleared the low decorative fence that marked the front yard like shit through a goose.
He spun the mare in front of the house, Pepper’s hooves spraying black mud on the pristine white porch.
“Holden, your momma’s gonna shit a pink Twinkie iff’n you messed up her cannas.” Daddy stood on the front porch, a shotgun in his hands, the barrel steady as fuck and aimed at the big man who stood on the steps. “Get off my land, you motherfucker.”
“No.” The accent was pure Aussie, making the word at least two syllables, maybe three. “I have a right to see her, and I’m not going anywhere.”
The guy looked like Addie—blond and blue-eyed with cheekbones you could cut with, only taller and infinitely tougher. Utterly male and totally cowboy.
“He’s one hell of a shot, man. I’d listen, I was you.” Holden stared down at the son of a bitch. “Who the fuck are you?”
Not that he couldn’t tell, but he reckoned he ought to start out like he could hold out.
“Lachlan McCoughey. Adelaide’s brother. That baby is half McCoughey, and you’ve no right to keep her from me.”
“Like I give half a shit what you say. Y’all didn’t never bother to be a part of anyone’s life before. You got no rights here. None. Get off our land.”
That deeply tanned face went two shades darker, blue eyes flashing like fiery sapphires under the brim of the gray cowboy hat. “You don’t know anything about me. I’m not going to drag my family shit through the mud. I didn’t even get to say good-bye!”
Nobody. And it burned through him like acid. His last words to Landon had been a text, for fuck’s sake. Landon had started it.
Heading to fly, bubba. Need anything from town on the way back?
That had been it.
The last thing his brother would say to him.
Pepper pranced, and Holden sighed, swinging out of the saddle so his boots hit the ground. “Daddy, put the gun away. For now. You want a cup of coffee?”
“What?” The son of a bitch looked gobsmacked.
“Y’all do have coffee where you’re from, right?” Addie loved coffee. They’d shared a cup every morning on their way to the stables. She also drank this sludge that she called tea, but they forgave her for that.
“Yeah, of course.” Lachlan shook his head as if to clear it, eyes crossing. “Sure. I’ll take one.”
“Daddy, let the man into the kitchen. You can always shoot him later. He’s a huge target.” Holden headed in, just to make sure Momma or Maria wasn’t down here with Chloe. She wasn’t, so he shot off a quick text to tell her to stay upstairs with the baby.
Daddy finally relented, stomping through the kitchen to put the shotgun away in the laundry room. Lachlan followed, tugging off his hat when he stepped inside.
Holden shoved his gimme cap in his back pocket and pulled out three mugs before he poured water in the coffeemaker. Momma and Daddy had bought one of them fancy deals that made the coffee immediately. There wasn’t no waiting, just coffee.
“You take it black?” Or are you a giant milk-needing pussy man?
Lachlan’s lips quirked, as if the man knew what he was thinking. “Cream and sugar, actually. If I have to have coffee, it might as well stick to my ribs.”
“Momma has those froufy-flavored creamers. I’ll let you pick.” He poured Daddy’s coffee first, then got the hazelnut, the french vanilla, and the toasted marshmallow Peep flavored. Christ on a pink glittery crutch. “Here you go. Options.”
Naturally, McCoughey picked marshmallow.
Holden fought the urge to roll his eyes. Barely. He settled in a kitchen chair. “Have a sit and we’ll talk.”
“Thanks. Hell of a flight here.” Lachlan sat, looking the room over, that sharp blue gaze missing very little, he’d bet. Holden wasn’t sure what Lachlan was looking for. It was a ranch kitchen—bigger than most, sure, because they had to feed the crew sometimes—bright and clean, homey.
Sarah Jane, the housekeeper, came in, stopping short when she saw Lachlan. “Sorry, I didn’t know y’all had company.”
“No worries, lady.” He waved her off with a wink and a nod. Sarah Jane had been a friend of the family since before he was born. Hell, her son Ryan had been his buddy for years.
Lachlan nodded, but waited until Sarah Jane left before firing the opening salvo. “I’d like to see my niece.”
“No.” He didn’t see no need to sugarcoat it. “I don’t know you from Job, and I ain’t just trotting her out to meet strangers.” His job was to protect that baby, and, dammit, he intended to do it.
“I’m her uncle, same as you.” Lachlan grimaced. “Adelaide’s my sister, and I may not have a bloody idea why she ran off, but I’m family.”
No idea. Shit. These folks had damn near kept Addie a prisoner, for fuck’s sake. Fancy-assed folks who called themselves ranchers, when Addie said they had more money than God.
“We got no proof of that, and that’s my granddaughter. I say whether or not you’re family.” Daddy had aged thirty years in the last thirty days. “No offense, but Addie never said nothing about wanting to get ahold of you. Even if you is family, how do I know you’re not a… a serial killer or something?”
Impressive. Ten seconds into the conversation and Daddy was already pulling out the serial killer card.
Lachlan’s dark blond brows climbed to his hairline. “Serial killer? Oy. I’m not a rodeo bugger.”
Ah, a snob and a homophobe. Goodie.
“Finish your coffee and go, man. I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing, but we got work to do.” And no time to deal with your horseshit.
Lachlan scowled. “You’re not planning on being reasonable, then? I have plenty of legal recourse, but I wanted to try to just work something out.”
He let his eyes roll like thrown dice. “Don’t bullshit me. Addie was an American citizen, and that baby is too. Chloe will be fifty before you ever got a court date. Threaten someone else.”
He had to deal with immigration all the fucking time, what with the Aussies and the Brazilians and the Frenchie—which was still a little what the fuck?—coming to rodeo. God knew, Landon wasn’t interested in managing that. Holden knew his shit.
Lachlan slapped his hands on the table and stood. “You clearly don’t know me. I don’t give up.”
“Uh, that’s the point, man. We don’t know you.” Idiot.
“I want. To see. Me niece.” Each word drawled out in the most offensive tone Holden could imagine. “She’s all there is left of my sister, and I’ll be fucked if I let her grow up with a bunch of trashy traveling circus types.”
Holden didn’t bother to monologue. He’d learned every lesson he had from his daddy, and this was an important one. If you’re fixin’ to fight, don’t talk. Hit the bastard first. Holden stepped up and clocked the tall motherfucker right under the jaw, sending Lachlan stumbling back.
Daddy opened the kitchen door without a word, and Holden’s next blow saw Lachlan on the front porch near the steps. The big guy tried to get his shit together to whale on him, but the dude was three times his size, so that wasn’t going to work. He got one more punch in, then shoved the asshole down the front steps, punctuating things with a firm kick in the butt.
“Guess you’re fucked, mate.” He drawled the last out, making it as nasty as he could. “Next time, we’ll just have to shoot first, ask questions after.”
Lachlan’s hat sailed out the door, and Daddy followed, right there with him.
To his credit, the dickhead didn’t sputter and threaten. He rose and grabbed his hat before limping to a big rental pickup in the yard, not even startling Pepper, who was still ground tied out there.
That didn’t bode well. Lachlan seemed like a damned determined man, and Holden knew full well this was far from over.
Still, it was over now, and sometimes that was the best a man could get.
It was like anything else in life, he guessed, you got the shit with the sunshine. Right now there was a wee bundle of sunshine upstairs waiting for him, and he intended to go see her.
“What the hell was that, Holden?” Ropers Norman and Ben came trotting up, with a metric fuckton of other cowboys following up slower.
“Says he was Addie’s brother. Don’t know about that. He was making threats and shit.”
“Miz Sheffield had a brother?” Ben scratched his head. “Never heard her say so.”
“Landon said she had folks back in Oz, but they didn’t get along.” That was Deacon, who had been Addie’s staunchest friend from the get-go.
“Well, y’all keep an eye out. He wants our Chloe.” The cowboys would help protect the ladies of the house, for sure.
Everyone, down to a man, scowled, but it was Crazy who spoke. “Ain’t no one hurting my baby girl. You got my word, Holden.”
“I appreciate it, Crazy, I do.”
There was a chorus of agreement before the boys drifted back to work. Daddy stepped out on the porch, those tired eyes missing nothing. “That feller ain’t gonna give up.”
“No, sir. I reckon he won’t.”
“We’ll have to powwow on it tonight.” Daddy spat off the porch. “Might as well get back to work.”
“Yeah. Give me two shakes of a dead lamb’s tail. I need to see….”
Momma came out with wee Chloe in her arms, and Holden moved straight over to them.
“Well, now, who is the sweetest baby girl I’ve ever known?”
He got a grin, Miss Chloe kicking and squealing to get to him.
His momma just shook her head. “She knows who she’s got wrapped around her finger, don’t she?”
“Yes, ma’am. You okay, Momma?”
“Right as rain. Nice bit of ass kicking, by the by.”
“Thanks.” His cheeks heated, and he lifted Chloe into his arms before pressing his cheek to the top of her downy head. “No one threatens my girl.”
He rocked her, letting himself just breathe a second. Not very long, because he had a few things to look into. Like what kind of family Addie had and where. He didn’t need more assholes showing up.
First, though, he had to get Pepper put away. Deal with his shit.
Life went on, even when he wasn’t sure he wanted it to.
I love the Dreamspun Desires line of books and Trial By Fire is the perfect addition to it! You will be drawn into the story just like I was and it is so well written you will not want it to end!
Lachlan is devastated to find that his sister who left home some time ago, and her husband have died, and when he finds he has a niece he goes to 'rescue' her from his sisters husbands family. Little does he know this trip will change his life!
Holden is attracted to the Aussie, despite him coming to the house and demanding Chloe, Holden doesn't think he would try to take her, but if he does he is in for a fight! Nothing is as important as his niece!
Despite the rocky first meeting, these two quickly realize that they want to be together, and they want to raise Chloe together, but they have so many obstacles to overcome, including family, distance, and even an unseen threat that could tear their lives apart!
You will love the exciting journey that is Trial By Fire, I am sure of it! Thanks B.a., for a wonderful addition to a fab line of books!
Lachland and Holden are two wonderful and caring men who are thrust together in a drama they didn't count on. They are strong, loyal, and smart. All this leads to a fast paced, hard heating love that changes both of their lives forever.
This is a beautiful story of what we do to protect our love ones, even after death. Lachlan has been searching for his sister since she has left home. Then before he can reconnect with her, he finds out that she has died and left behind a little girl. Lachlan does not think that his niece will raised in the right environment and heads to Texas to get her back home with him in Oz. Holden is trying to handle everything with his family and the rodeo business. Chloe has been left to Holden to raise around the ranch that her mother fell in love with.
When these two Alpha males meet Lachlan is blinded by his desire to take Chloe that he does not fully see that Holden is no push over, especially when he punch and throw out on his ass. You can feel the heat coming off the pages when these two are around each other. When Chloe is taken from her home, suspension starts to fly of the chart. Can these two families be able to set aside their agenda and save Chloe? Can these two make the right choice for the family and what is best for little Chloe, even if it is painful to do? Highly recommend this book
How would you describe the plot of this book? some twist
Which of these words best describes the mood? Suspenseful
How would you describe the pace? steady
How would you describe the characters? developed
* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *
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